It’s high time Oxford ditches Facebook for Discord

Comment University/Local Issues

Image description: the ‘banned’ sign over Oxlove’s Facebook page and an arrow towards Discord

Oxford, everyone knows, is old-fashioned and slow to change. An ironic consequence of this fact is that Oxford is now stuck with Facebook as its organisational nexus: Facebook is the go-between of blossoming fresher friendships, safe-haven for essay-crisis pleas, and mother hen of institutionalised gossip from OUCA to OxStu. And, frankly, it’s high time for the tide to turn.

Facebook was once upon a time fresh and fancy. No longer. Now it is inhabited by my mother and even my housemate’s grandparents, who thrive on it. Oxford, in its institutional sluggishness, is now trapped in this world. It’s not hard to see why—with 39 colleges (and 6 PPHs!), Oxford is an atomised place, and it needs serious machinery to keep the wheels of information turning, to spread news and gossip and events. Each new intake of freshers is inculcated into Zuckerberg’s meta-vision, forced onto a platform fewer and fewer of them already have, and which fewer and fewer of any of us even want. As a friend once told me in the library: “if Facebook is so good, why is there no Facebook 2: electric boogaloo?” He’s not wrong… A quick survey of the ills of Facebook:

  1. profit over ethics
  2. mental health issues
  3. the blurred lines between personal and work life (it’s really annoying when I open messenger to tell a friend to come to the bar only to be met with a request to fulfil some admin task)
  4. Facebook has become the home of my mum, not me
  5. doom-scrolling sucks
  6. serious privacy issues
  7. political polarisation
  8. facts vs ‘alternative facts’

Facebook was once upon a time fresh and fancy. No longer. Now it is inhabited by my mother and even my housemate’s grandparents

In short: Facebook is a lumbering beast holding Oxford back both technologically and ethically.

Yet life at Oxford is diminished greatly without the ability to see what events your friend is ‘interested’ in, the group chat’s latest messages, and the ability to find someone you met without knowing their phone number. It’s a sad reality, but reality nonetheless. Small-scale attempts to move communication and organisation at Oxford onto other platforms—Teams, Snapchat, WhatsApp—have been half-hearted and mostly failed. Even if Teams were not the realm of actual Oxford work, it is too clunky—and WhatsApp lacks the dynamic flexibility and organic organisational capacities of Facebook. Oh, and the impetus to move to WhatsApp is undoubtedly hampered by the fact that Facebook—or, rather, ‘Meta’—owns it.

Instagram and Snapchat, I am told by those younger and cooler than me, are oft utilised for messaging. But they’re just not great for organising your student society or newspaper or event. And frankly, like Facebook, they prioritise profit over social value.

It is on this basis that I propose that Oxford’s online communities—from JCRs to MCRs, from student newspapers to political societies, and from student movements to anonymous submission pages—move to Discord, and ditch Facebook. 

What, I hear some of you ask, is Discord? It is a social media app based around “servers”: places for communities or conversations to flourish. It now has more than 150 million users each month and is particularly popular with gamers and podcasters—but “increasingly [with] people who want to discuss everything from local politics to gardening”. Nowadays, 80% of its users are not gamers. It ditches Facebook and Instagram’s ‘feed’ for ‘rooms’, and is considered by many more human and intimate.

Fundamentally, Discord was designed for gamers. One may ask: why would Oxford move to this platform? After all, while there are many gamers in Oxford, not everyone is—and the Oxford community is not a gaming community. I think the answer is simple: Discord was made to allow those with an aligned common interest to connect and interact, which is exactly what the Oxford community is: a group of decentralised individuals who need to connect.

I’m not married to the idea of Discord. If a better platform exists out there, I can get behind that

Discord allows you to have ‘friends’, makes joining ‘servers’ accessible, and offers the ability to call/video call. The call feature, I am told, is better than that of Skype and potentially even Zoom. The latter is up for debate, but my opinion is that Zoom is too “professional” for students, and that the more informal feeling of Discord would improve calls. Perhaps more crucially, this would integrate chats and groups (which are currently on Facebook) with group calls (which are mostly currently on Zoom, or sometimes Teams). That said, it does have a 25-person limit on calls – so Zoom will have to stay for bigger meetings. Also, with Discord, the ‘bot’ feature (automated ‘users’) would allow easy migration of our good old friends Oxfess and Oxlove, and their myriad spawn. In fact, it would probably be easier.

Ultimately, there is a downside. And I don’t deny it. The inability to have ‘events’, the lifeblood of Oxford’s Facebook community, is a genuine issue. I think the organic ability for people to see what events others are interested in is crucial in the Oxford landscape. That said, I’m not married to the idea of Discord. If a better platform exists out there, I can get behind that. Perhaps, one might suggest an enterprising Oxford student to come up with a platform of our own – please, go for it!

 Facebook is failing us, so it’s worth the sweat, blood, and tears. And one day I hope I never have to fight Facebook’s infuriating interface ever again.

Undoubtedly, the majority of those reading this will have clicked through to it from The Oxford Student’s Facebook page. Another irony. None of us can escape the lizard conspiracy. But changing the platforms and systems we inhabit must come from within.

The real difficulty is moving. Oxford, as everyone knows, is slow to change. I see two main difficulties. The first is the valid idea that the platforms that thrive are those that are already part of our day-to-day lives—communicating with home friends, family, etc. Although this is true, Facebook is no longer the everyday choice of new freshers. Time and time again JCR and MCR committees have complained that freshers do not know what is going on because they do not use Facebook (a problem I am well acquainted with). The time is thus ripe to switch to Discord. The second is trickier—with everything on Facebook, Discord seems to be the lesser alternative, and also seems to double the work: in short, to make Discord work one must post on both Facebook and Discord, because the majority will still use Facebook for a little while.  

I have no answer to this challenge other than to say: Facebook is failing us, so it’s worth the sweat, blood, and tears. And one day I hope I never have to fight Facebook’s infuriating interface ever again.

Image Credit: Discord logo from Unsplash \ Oxlove & Oxtickets screengrabs from their Facebook pages

 

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