Collectivize Facebook: A Pre-Trial

By Jonas Staal & Jan Fermon

You worked for it, you own it. Collectivize Facebook.

With three billion users today, Facebook (owned by Meta Platforms Inc.) impacts our social, economic and political lives in an unprecedented way. In response, artist Jonas Staal and human rights lawyer Jan Fermon initiated a collective action lawsuit to force legal recognition of Facebook as a public domain that should be under ownership and control of its users. The lawsuit is accompanied by public preliminary tribunals, or “pre-trials”. After organizing pre-trials in Germany, Belgium, Guatemala and the Netherlands, the next gathering of the lawsuit takes place in Zurich, Switzerland.

Staal and Fermon argue that Facebook infringes upon the right to self-determination of peoples and individuals in various ways. The profit model of Facebook is based on the instrumentalization of users as neo-feudal data workers. Facebook is used in various surveillance capacities that infringe upon privacy and further impacts democratic elections in disproportionate ways, of which data capture and targeted campaigns of Cambridge Analytica are a recent example. The corporation makes use of racist algorithms and willfully advises authoritarian regimes such as that of Duterte in the Philippines.

During this pre-trial, Staal and Fermon introduce the indictment against Facebook and invite the public to join as co-signatories to the lawsuit that will be submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Subsequently, various witnesses will be called to testify on the future of Facebook if the trial is won: What would be the decision-making structures for nearly three billion co-owners of Facebook? Will it ensure encryption, and ban advertisement? Do we decentralize servers, or even dismantle its infrastructure as a whole, considering its heavy reliance on extractive industries? 

Switzerland, and Zurich in particular, is becoming one of the world's most important locations for tech giants. For Google, Zurich is already the center for their operations outside the US and Facebook is hiring 150 new software developers and scientists this year alone. How to resist this unchecked concentration of power, and how to ensure the transformation of the “Swiss Silicon Valley” into public ownership?

Collectivize Facebook engages the space of art as one of collective legal action and speculation. It invites the public to join a lawsuit, but also aims to mobilize the imagination when it comes to reclaiming and governing Facebook – as well as other trillion-dollar companies – as common ownership.

With contributions by: Brandy Butler, Jana Honegger, Jan Fermon, Jonas Staal, Jose Maria Sison, Julia Rone, Paul-Olivier Dehaye, Siva Vaidhyanathan, The Yes Men

Language: English

Join the collective action lawsuit against Facebook here.

Project team: Jonas Staal (artist); Jan Fermon (lawyer); Nadine Gouders (coordinator Studio Jonas Staal); Paul Kuipers (architect); Remco van Bladel (designer); Ruben Hamelink (filmmaker); Hayat Erdoğan & Nikolai Eneas Prawdzic (Dramaturgy Neumarkt)

(The first iteration of Collectivize Facebook was commissioned by HAU Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin, in 2020)


Jonas Staal is a visual artist whose work deals with the relation between art, propaganda, and democracy. He is the founder of the artistic and political organizations "New World Summit", "Training for the Future" and "Court for Intergenerational Climate Crimes". In 2021, the Neumarkt co-produced the second edition of Training for the Future. 
Jan Fermon is a lawyer specialized in criminal law, international (humanitarian) law and human rights law. He has represented trade unionists against attempts to criminalize collective action, victims of the genocide in Rwanda and of war crimes committed by US troops during the war on Iraq and of NATO bombings in Libya.
Paul-Olivier Dehaye is the director of PersonalData.IO, a nonprofit focused on making data rights individually actionable and collectively useful and on the board of directors of MyData Global. He has contributed to the uncovering of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. 
Jana Honegger is an artist and digital rights activist. Currently working on ADM, facial recognition and data tracking/profiling. In her contribution to Collectivize Facebook, she collaborates with Saïd Boulahcen (sound).
Julia Rone is a postdoctoral researcher at the Minderoo Centre for Technology and Democracy at CRASSH, Cambridge. Her current research focuses on the democratization of internet policy regulation. 
Jose Maria Sison Jose Maria Sison is a Filipino writer and activist, and representative of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. He is fighting Facebook's influence in the Philippines. 
The Yes Men are a net art and activist group from the USA. 
Siva Vaidhyanathan is an American cultural historian and media scholar. He is a professor of Media Studies and Law at the University of Virginia. His most recent book is "Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us And Undermines Democracy".

Brandy Butler is a performance artist, musician, educator, mother, and activist who spends her time creating creative opportunities at the intersection of art and community. Brandy has been an ensemble member at Neumarkt since the 2019/20 season.