Web 2.0: Are you feeling exploited?

exploitationHere’s an interesting question for social media junkies like myself:  is social media fun, or exploitation of free labour?

As part of the book I’m writing on social media marketing, I was going through critiques of social media. Of course, and as expected, there was a lot of criticism in relation to privacy concerns. However, there is also an intriguing stream of research that has been published around the  idea that social media represents essentially exploitation of free labour. The argument is, that social media relies on people contributing content, which they usually do for free. For example, I’m writing this blog for free.  I have a Facebook profile, where I post pictures, write updates  for free etc.  At the same time, Facebook (or other media platform) relies on this voluntarily and free contribution  to make money. The question therefore is, is maintaining besides basically exploitation? This is particularly interesting, as clearly, many people enjoy “being exploited” in this way.

From a traditional “economic” perspective, where consumer and producer are strictly separated, I can see the point of this critique. However, I am also gaining something in return, which seems to be unattributed for, at least in the articles that I have come across. For example, while it’s true that I contribute free labour to Facebook in the form of maintaining my profile, Facebook also returns valuable services to me. For example, staying in touch with my friends. Of course, staying in touch with my friends has no immediate monetary “value”, but is still something very valuable to me. I’m not trying to dismiss the critique in articles such as this or this, but I’m slightly surprised that the argument here seems to be largely around monetary value, rather than taking a more holistic view off what value might mean to the individual. For example, the monetary value of something that friend gave me on a special occasion, may be very little or nothing when I try to sell it. But this is something might be very valuable to me.

However, I’m quite intrigued by the argument being put forward. How do you feel? Do you think that social media is inherently exploitative?  Are we even potentially moving to a new form off capitalist exportation this article claims? Let me know what you think!

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