Performative opening lecture

Collectivize Facebook: A Pre-Trial Hearing

by Jonas Staal and Jan Fermon 

The Netherlands


On March 15, 1951, the first mocratically elected president of Guatemala, Juan José Arévalo Bermejo, pronounced the following words in his farewell speech, when handing over the presidency to Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán: “I felt, with consequent indignation, the pressure of that anonymous force that governs, without laws or morals, international relations and the relations of men”. His words foretold the CIA coup d’état in 1954, instigated by the United Fruit Company, whose monopolies were threatened by Árbenz’s progressive agrarian reform policies.  

According to artist Jonas Staal and human rights lawyer Jan Fermon, the anonymous force that Arévalo mentioned still exists today as a lawless force in the form of trillion-dollar companies in the United States – such as Facebook, Amazon, Alphabet (Google) and Bayer (Monsanto). Based on the progressive policies of Árbenz, they argue that we must regain public control and ownership of trillion-dollar monopolies that extract labour and resources without remuneration and, as such, fundamentally infringe on the right to self-determination enshrined in Article I of the United Nations Charter of Human Rights.

For this reason, Staal and Fermon initiated a class action lawsuit against Facebook that serves as a model for prosecuting other companies as well, an example that will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The goal of their lawsuit is for Facebook to be recognized as a public domain platform and for ownership to be transferred to its users. This means not reforming or nationalizing Facebook, but turning it into a transnational cooperative, owned and governed by its workers and users.

During the digital pre-trial hearing in Guatemala, Staal and Fermon present their lawsuit and invite the public to join as co-plaintiffs. The pre-trial will also include testimony from witnesses about the future that will be possible when Facebook and other similar companies are collective: How will we govern Facebook collectively as 2.3 billion co-owners, decentralize servers, ban advertising, ensure encryption, dismantle all its extractive infrastructures?