Last Friday (March 3, 2012), Tobias Leingruber issued IDs. The number was limited to 100. As expected one had to stand in line in order to get one, after all standing in line has at all times been an essential part of any interaction with administration.
Unlike other artists and activists before him, Tobias does not claim to start his own state and his critique is not aimed at the state as such, but at what he believes may replace the state some time soon: Facebook
In order to get an ID, a Facebook Account is required. It then shows the holder’s FB user name, photo and the date he/she joined the social network.
The fascination (sometimes as fear, sometimes as hope) that the state may get replaced has been around for a while. In Snowcrash, Corporations that run gated communities with their own police take over some of the typical tasks of the state. In the late 90s Sealand made it on the cover of Wired when investors thought a micro state on a Maunsell Sea Fort would make a perfect base for hosting internet sites outside the reach of state legislation. Later MMOs emerged, some of them with veritable economies. In 1997 players of Ultima Online staged a protest in front of Lord Britsh’s castle.
Unlike these examples, Facebook, if it became a state, were not a micro, but, with close to a billion users, a macro state. Facebook’s stateliness derives from the knowledge it has about the it’s users. Thinking of Facebook as a state is therefore in the best tradition of big brother paranoia and it seems like the artist himself was a bit paranoid about the capabilities and the power of Facebook. In the last moment Leingruber decided to change the title from “Facebook ID” to “Social Network ID”, because he was afraid of getting into trouble and facing lawsuits. The fact that Facebook does not yet have it’s own legislation and courts was apparently not reassuring. Unfortunately the otherwise smart intervention unnecessarily suffered form the artist’s confused anticipatory obedience to a degree that almost makes it worthless as a work of art and quite useless as a form of activism.
1. In case of a law suite the amount of dispute after handing out 100 free ID cards with a Facebook Logo would be quite low (certainly lower than the sum sympathizers would donate within hours after such a lawsuit becomes public)
2. The intervention took place in Germany. Place of jurisdiction is therefore Germany.
3. According to German law, it should be very difficult for Facebook to claim violation of intellectual property, let alone damage of reputation, because artistic freedom to address a topic of public interest will certainly be valued higher than Facebook’s claims.
4. If Facebook was stupid enough to sue the organizer of such an intervention, it would create the kind of publicity artists and activists can only hope for.
Update: Whether the cease-of-desist letter that Facebook allegedly sent Leingruber is a hoax or not makes little difference. If Facebook actually sent the letter, it just shows that Leingruber got enough attention for Facebook to hear about it (and of course that FB’s lawyers are clueless). If it’s a hoax, it is only an attempt to make the best of the situations as it is now, but it is besides the point and dilutes what could have been an elegant piece.