Ahead of its crowdfund launch on May 1, Campfire Convention is enjoying its first mainstream press exposure this week with an excellent article from Ian Burrell in the i on our platform in the context of Facebook's posting of its latest soaring financial results. He refers to the tech giant as 'digital gangsters'
Burrell highlights Campfire's moves towards empowering members in the context of a more community-based model for social networking.
Campfire Convention, the social media startup using local activists to take on Facebook’s global reach
After enduring its most shaming episodes yet in an already scandal-filled short history, Facebook has posted another potent set of financial results that have sent its share price soaring.
Its earnings report for the first quarter of 2019 shows its user base has grown to 2.38 billion every month, with 1.56 billion of these being sucked in every day. It has reached a plateau of users in North America but continues to expand in Europe and, especially, in Asia Pacific.
Facebook’s family of platforms, including Instagram, WhatsApp and the Facebook mothership, has an audience of 2.7 billion. Revenues for just these three months were $15 billion, up 26 per cent year-on-year.
Wall Street was impressed and Facebook’s share price rose 8.3 per cent. This was in spite of the revelation that the tech giant has set aside $3 billion in anticipation of a Federal Trade Commission fine over the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which a company working for the Donald Trump campaign harvested the raw data of 87m Facebook users.
In September, Facebook was found to have allowed hackers to breach the data of 30m users.
In the UK, a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee report in February on the spread of fake news branded Facebook as “digital gangsters”.
This month, New Zealand’s privacy commissioner, John Edwards, described Facebook as “morally bankrupt pathological liars” after the platform hosted a livestream of the Christchurch terror attacks, in which 50 people died.
“We are not about clickbait, we are not about dominating people’s time”
Yet none of this seems to hinder Facebook’s progress to global dominance. Its Instagram Stories and Facebook Stories features are lucrative advertising streams and each attract 500m daily users, dwarfing the rival Snapchat platform.
Facebook sits on $45 billion of reserves and has grown its staff by 36 per cent in a year to nearly 38,000.
In the last quarter, despite all the negativity, it added 39m to its daily audience.
“The fact that Facebook isn’t losing massive numbers of users after years of sustained scandals is a testament to how deeply it has woven itself into people’s lives,” the website TechCrunch reflected this week.
Big Chill sparks the fire
Pete Lawrence wants to give people an alternative. Best-known as co-founder of the Big Chill music festival, which was a pioneer of online community forums, Lawrence has been slowly developing a new social network, Campfire Convention, which he hopes will capture a spirit of community activism. Music producer Brian Eno is a patron.
“The message is about empowering people – not being defeated by the system,” he says. [It’s about] taking back initiative at local level, putting the love back into social networking, and getting away from this incredibly divided country we have ended up in through Brexit and the way social media has amplified fake news.”
Using the slogan “Where Sparks Ignite”, Campfire Convention – like the best music festivals – is about “finding common denominators rather than accentuating differences”, Lawrence says.
As opposed to algorithm-driven sites that are “playing with people’s emotions” and feeding a craving for likes, Campfire is “less about the ego and more about what we can build together”.
He senses a “backlash against the addictive nature of mobile phones”, so Campfire will avoid notifications and similar marketing ruses. “That’s all designed to hook us in, “ says Lawrence. “We are not about clickbait, we are not about dominating people’s time.”
‘Supporting the underdog’
He is excited by the Extinction Rebellion climate protests, which he attended in London, but finds it “frustrating” that “all their groups are on Facebook”. He claims activists share that sentiment.
Drawing people away from Facebook isn’t easy.
Lawrence hopes that part of Campfire’s appeal will be “supporting the underdog”. He travelled around the UK in a camper van visiting members of the prototype site – you don’t get that from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Campfire uses a network of “beacons” to draw together members by locality. Bournemouth’s beacon has set up food banks and worked with the homeless. A new Athens beacon gives an indication of Campfire’s global potential.
It has a news section, The Bugle, which Lawrence hopes will become “an alternative media source”. It promotes discussion of the future of social media, citing books such as Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism and Katie Brockhurst’s Social Media for a New Age.
On 1 May, Campfire Convention will launch a crowdfunding project to upgrade its software. It will offer perks from supporters, including mentorships on staging events and making raw chocolate. Tickets will be sold for a mini festival, The Little Chill, to be held in July. Change is coming, Lawrence believes.
“There is a tipping point we will get to – if we haven’t reached it already – where people realise how much surveillance capitalism is going on through big tech companies,” he says. “I think we will see real movement towards community social networking.”