Since social networks gets more and more popular and the effects of the web on people, things and products keep increasing, the concept of free laboring of the web seems to get more attention now. This issue has relationships to most people in the world. According to Marco Briziarelli (2014), one of the most critical debates about this issue indicates that the internet has already become a dominant corporate model of “capital accumulation”. It is based on the exploitation of the free labor of “prod-users”, the activities of users like blogging or social networking, and creation of the content at the same time. The essay explores the concept of free laboring in terms of what it does, how it works, and associated reasons. Marco Briziarelli (2014) defines the new media environment as “informational capitalism,” indicating the facts of the capitalism of information and communication. Besides, quick development of technology occurs within the environment of globalization. Under this circumstance, users prefer more involvement into the task of “handling, distributing, and creating knowledge.” The essay also discusses effects of this issue and benefits to the web, companies, individuals, and users.
The web 2.0 network is a social platform dominated by communications. The web 2.0 is based on social functions such as VoIP, chat rooms, instant messaging, and co-operating with others on the internet. Most technologies on web 2.0 are both cooperative and communicative. It follows that cooperation of individuals leads to a particular mode of production and industrialization and, thus, this cooperation is considered as a ‘productive force’.
Exploitation of labor from this co-operative effort of many users of web 2.0 turns into unpaid labor. For example, this is evident in social network platforms mainly concerned with online communications, but has the potential to create online communities. Online communities give rise to virtual connections of friendships, altruism, and even love and have a trait of affectionate cooperation. These connections are either beneficial or lead to the creation and development of new ideas. Long-term benefits earned by such engagements are utilized without having to compensate users for their labor inputs.
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Social network is an aspect of web 2.0 and is distinguishable in various forms of web-based communications such as emails, text chats, websites, and so on. Information shared on these platforms is a valuable input to a process that is both direct and indirect since it possesses cognition, cooperation, and communication. Concepts of web 2.0 linger towards transition from information consumption and publishing towards applications supporting communication, cooperation, and participation on the Internet, which is more of a tool supporting communications (O’Reilly, 2005).
Social software is the central foundation of internet activities with the capability to empower individual efforts. Linking users enables to form large groups and collect and provide metadata about various network aspects that facilitate social networks to develop and become visible and interconnected (Saveri, Rheingold, &Vian, 2005). Users can connect with many recipients where each producer is also a consumer and this is the concept of many-to-many communications. By cooperation, web 2.0 enables users to produce digital content without being physically together. Using existing texts, users create new ones that are enhanced and contain advanced material. People write open source content delivered by wiki software on web 2.0 with the primary goal of sharing new knowledge and not for earning money. It emulates a trend based on an ethos of cooperation and shared knowledge, which forms a new logic that is a gift economy.
Any analysis conducted on social media requires a critique of both ideology and exploitation. According to Scholz (2013), a sudden newness of social media is driven towards potential investments. Web 2.0 is a marketing strategy stressed by the fact that social media represent a self-driven participation, i.e. embedding themselves into human culture (Jenkins, 2008, p. 137). This points towards participatory ownership structures that make the internet a participatory platform. Such a participatory engagement is necessary, along with learning and decision-making.
The Unpaid Labor
The labor input in developing content on web 2.0 is a collective effort of users. Most users receive no compensation for their efforts. This labor produces a massive amount of profits that are undistributed to users, creating a situation when users are extremely exploited by a few capitalists. For example, the amount of work done by users on social network sites such as MySpace, Twitter, and Facebook to maintain connections goes uncompensated even though these sites make billions from these connections. One can consider a scenario when this labor is withdrawn by users and it is easy to see that these sites are dependent on users rather than the other way round. It brings out the case for capital and labor since capital cannot survive without labor, but labor can develop and maintain its creativity and productivity without the capitalism. The autonomy of labor portrayed in the workings of web 2.0 and social media.
Unpaid digital labor lacks the structure and controls of corporate organizations. Thus, digital labor is governed by a much more unstable organization where content is mainly dependent on production and usage. The ability of brands to create awareness and royalties in these networks facilitates exploitation. According to Baym and Burnett (2008), users serve as experts to grade, label, and translate a large, disorganized, and remote set of material for international consumption. In the scenario of unpaid labor, this voluntary effort can be seen in the internet workings of web 2.0. It helps brands create awareness among customers and capture their attention. Brands are capable of measuring their worth based on the number of connections they possess. Brands generate higher share prices and excessive premium prices from the use of these connections to third parties interested in effectively reaching these connections.
It is evident that most media companies depend on their users to participate in value creation. This relation can be considered as a manifestation of exploitation. Exploitation is a combination of dominations and economic dimensions. Users develop content both as connections and contribution that are unreimbursed regardless of the fact that corporations utilize this content to make huge profits. Corporations take advantage of their ability to connect a wider community of users and use their popularity to exploit users who feel the urge to contribute for them to stay relevant in their created societies.
Users invest their time, not to mention their resources in order to maintain connections with the platforms. For a user to get connected to a platform such as Facebook, Google, and other social networks, they require to own at least an internet-enabled mobile phone, smartphone, laptop, or computer. The cost invested in the hardware is not repaid back to users and it costs money to subscribe to an internet service provider in order to connect to the internet. Funds spent on such devices are unrecovered. The time users spend on contributing to these networks can be spent on other income generating activities.
Users who consume content from other users without paying for the content give rise to unpaid labor. When content is monetized by other users, owners of the content should be reimbursed. Most users share books, music, and videos without considering issues associated with copyright. Creators of such content do not make any revenue. For example, most music is shared online without creators having authorized the activities and it amounts to piracy and infringement of rights of composers of such songs.
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Exploitation of Free Labor
User consumption of content is converted into a development processes that is accepted and mostly exploited for capital gain, creating a gap and generating unpaid labor. Creative works of users that contain knowledgeable materials are given out as gifts to other users. This kind of knowledge work has unspecified quality essential to the process of igniting innovation, boosting creativity, and creating a competitive edge in the market. At the most, users whose content is monetized do not receive any payments.
Human intelligence is essential for a healthy economy. However, human knowledge cannot be managed in the same way as more traditional types of labor. Open organization structure is vital in order to produce content based on open communications and collaborations. The structure is easy to corrupt, creating loopholes whereby unpaid labor arises. In digital economy, unpaid labor and free content are the key driving factors.
The digital economy involves various forms of production such as multimedia production and digital services on the web. These kinds of developed services are a part of an economic process that creates monetary value out of knowledge and affect. It is easy to exploit the digital economy for capital gains due to its nature. Producers of content have no form of ownership of the content they add to this economy. It leaves a gap for exploitation since it is easy to monetize contents of capital gain without considering such issues as copyright. Another challenge to the economy arises from the lack of a possible standard to measure the size of this economy. The content is sold without reimbursing actual developers or users and users have no way to claim it or are not interested in monetary gains from their content. Corporations are formed and are dependent on this connections and communities to thrive. However, users that make these connections do not get to benefit from the revenue generated by these corporations from their online communities.
According to Arvidsson and Colleoni (2012), subjective operations on web 2.0 tend to value effective connections so that users reason in terms of building and enjoying a sense of community. Users engage at a biopolitical level when they participate in active activities on web 2.0. Corporates can, therefore, access user content and their preferences. According to Hardt and Negri (2004), labor created by the user is immaterial products such as information, knowledge, a relationship, or communication. These connections are used as input capital to processes of a corporation that earns revenue.
Open content projects and wikis enable interaction threatened by capitalist logic and the influence of commoditization and bureaucratization. Hence, all active users have to produce surplus value with no wage. Thus, it can be said that these acts involve unpaid labor of users. This free labor is an unacknowledged source of value in advanced capitalist societies (Terranova, 2004, p. 74). A good example of this is illustrated by Andrejevic (2008) when he explores how online comments help television producers by providing feedback, saving them from conducting expensive market researches, and publicizing their programs. Marketing cost reduces gradually due to this strategy
Can It Be Considered As Unpaid Labor Exploitation?
For unpaid labor to be considered as exploited, one must assume that the rewards that users gain from participation are less valuable than those they deserve. Most users participate in these activities for a reward of socializing and not for monetary gains, therefore being excluded from actual gains of their participation. Most users who contribute to blogs do so with the intention of sharing meaningful information with other users. The outcome shows that regardless of whether a monetary value arises from these participations, users are content with the opportunity to contribute. For example, when Google uses data from various sites to perpetrate its business goals, it also drives traffic to these sites, leaving a win-win situation for both parties.
Most users are not attracted to social networking sites by the dynamics of the power that exploits them, but rather by their abilities to contribute. When users choose to join certain platforms, their main goals are not geared towards making profits, but rather towards making social connections and sharing their information. At times, most users are willing to do pro-bono work on some popular sites and are only driven by the social status that comes with their participation.
Trends of users to consume and analyze information are beneficial to producers of the information. Users develop a taste that helps producers of such content to produce more appealing content for users. For example, when music is shared online, various critics emerge and guide musicians to a more prospecting career. When users share content freely, the advertising cost is cut drastically, making users aware of products that would have otherwise been unknown. The outcome of these activities covers for unpaid revenue sharing of content.
The value of content shared online is dependent on the review of uses. The larger number of users it reaches, the better its chances of improvement are. Quality matters when free content is involved. Sharing ideas in various communities online enables users to enjoy feedback that would have been withheld by actual social connections. Users can, therefore, improve their ideas and benefit further from connections.
Immaterial labor is hard to value economically due to its nature since users give it voluntarily. Users expect no monetized gain from their activities and, therefore, it is not justifiable to consider their input as uncompensated. Users depend on consumption of digital media created by fellow users in their networks. Consumption of data is compensated by sharing new content. The owner of the platform owns rights to the content and traces activities of users. The infrastructure of the platforms is mapped and translated into information. The information is then monetized and returned to users as more rigid data. The platforms help users in making connections on a peer-to-peer level. Users compliment owners of the platforms by providing content and connections. Owners of the platforms reciprocate by providing meaningful forms of suggestions and a convenient way to communicate on web 2.0.
The web-based economy needs distinctive understanding of value creation and production process. Networks formed on web 2.0 have a distinct relation to the concept of free labor. The idea of free labor points to creative conditions of production of the system of valorization of users (Terrranova, 2004). Therefore, elements of exploitation and ideology are merged. There is a gap in which exploitation of users by the capitalist applies to a measurable level by economic standards.
Users participate to create and enjoy affective pleasures and desires they feel that bring joy. Therefore, one can say that users crave for a social response to pressure that arises from these activities. Contributions are fully voluntary and are aimed at making relationships more than making cash. Users who contribute gain social status and influence.
Connections made on social networks require organization and maintenance for them to function efficiently. Companies that own most platforms esteemed by users are compensated by capitalizing these connections. Users on these platforms are aware of the monetary gain earned by owners of the platforms and are content with making connections on these platforms. Most users are trapped in these platforms by a fetish that is addictive and find it hard to leave. Users have to keep constantly developing content and sharing connections for them to stay relevant in these networks. Users feel that they have an obligation to contribute to these networks without considering economic values of their contributions.
To some extent, the content created on social networks and web 2.0 is essential to a process that creates a better product that indirectly helps users. Openness of social networks facilitates the ability to produce content with limitless ideologies that goes further to benefit users in an indirect way. Through collaborations, users can consult and rectify on issues associated with faulty inventions and products. In the long run, users are proud to be a part of a process that leads to the creation of a product. According to Thomas and Sheth (2011), content developers of Wikipedia invest a worthwhile amount of time into refining articles without compensation. Considering that Wikipedia’s users are mostly anonymous, it seems contributing to Wikipedia is not a notable effort. Individual contribution is insignificant compared to the social outcome. Most wikis do not compensate uses beyond accomplishments of a communal effort.
Among other things, knowledge sharing is core to the learning process. Users of social networks can interact with other users from various cultural backgrounds. Benefits gained from these interconnections are vital in the production of a global community. Sharing of diversification of different cultures brings about cultural growth that has economic and political effects.
Most users use social media as a source of entertainment. Content on sites such as blogs and wikis is fascinating to most users. Most content on some of the websites is very informative and teaches new things as the laboring process is continued. Users are satisfied with sharing their content such as blogs and writing wikis without any form of compensation. The primary source of satisfaction of these users is derived from knowing the number of users who see their content or have the capability to visit their sites. Efforts of such users are considered as free labor or volunteering that has a greater impact than the monetized value of the content.
Creation of knowledge products for capital gains is knowledge capitalism specializing in a distinct characterization of information. The cost of production for this information is low and diminishes technological inventions and developments (Fuchs, 2010). Knowledge as is a commodity sold at prices beyond its actual value. Knowledge can also be gifted to users in web 2.0 where it is distributed to almost every location in the world.
The digital economy consists of a situation where information is a gift and commodity runs in tandem with cooperation and competition. The economy of information as a commodity uses interaction to accumulate money, using reduced capital cost. The core of social networks consists of productive forces of information capitalism. Information on social networks is controlled by intellectual property rights. However, information productive forces point to a gift economy where information is open and socially better. Therefore, information productivity contrasts with capitalism in information creation. The contest leads to a situation when information proprietary and openness become entangled (Andersen, 2007).
Information gifts are a part of social networks where goods are freely distributed and easily accessible. However, social networking platforms and social software use information gifts to lure a large number of users with an aim of building monopolies in particular fields so as to generate capital. Most users consume information, but capitalists exploit information economically.
Companies such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter utilize connections they make by providing links to users as the human capital to push for advertisement revenue. The user information is collected, analyzed, and classified according to user preference. Advertisers are advised based on these preferences. Most people would not agree with this, but this also helps users get recommendations for products that are likely to fit their wants. The nature of the relationship may beg to compensate users since it is their participation that counts. Users are, however, content with the platforms provided and most of them are interested in connections they make only.
Wikis and blogs have a fascinating way of creating satisfaction among their users. Most bloggers enjoy posting content for readers who enjoy reading the content. Importance of this information constitutes a serviceable form of labor. Utilization of this information enables creation of a new product or improvements of an existing product.
Research should focus on the quality of immaterial labor available on web 2.0. Information is rated by the level of reliability and accuracy. Once quality of work is established, users can be paid for their efforts. However, from a general perspective it would be hard to ensure that information becomes worthy of compensation by developers.