Debates in Digital Culture 2019/Digital Labour

Digital LabourEdit


Digital labour is one of the ways of working in the digital age. As Dennis Beck and Claretha Hughes say, historically this era began when the use of digital technology became prevalent and of common use throughout the world, mainly with the widespread use of the Internet (Beck & Hughes, 2012) [1]. Logically, this manner of working appeared in a context in which workers can assume any place as optimal to work, thanks to the digital revolution and the implementation of the information and communications technology (Graham, Hjorth & Lehdonvirta, 2017).

Both the current society and its way of working are linked to computers.

Digital labour consists in the exploitation of users’ unpaid labour, who create content for multiple websites, for example social networks. Nowadays, this is the predominant model of capital accumulation of corporate Internet platforms. In addition, they benefit from the content because this online activity creates a data commodity that is sold to advertising clients as a commodity. In this way, they have the possibility of presenting advertisements that are targeted to users’ interests and online behaviour, and earn more money (Fuchs & Sevignani, 2013) [2].

There is a growing demand for work that takes place exclusively online. The internet has progressed to a point in which businesses are recognising the merits of a digital form of labour. The deployment of digital media has an impact on the working conditions; for example, the blurring of working space and other spaces of human life. This new way of working, as practically any activity, has benefits and drawbacks, both for employees and employers.

Christian Fuchs and Sebastian Sevignani link digital labour with Marxist theories and the present economic system. This current of thought is critical of capitalism and blame it for enriching a minority, which owns the means of production, at the expense of an oppressed and exploited majority. These ideas, as the labor theory of value, can be extrapolated to the current digital economy and can be related to digital labour, which has a major impact on our economy (Fuchs & Sevignani, 2013). But not only them talk about the influence of capitalism, also in an Ephemera Journal’s article the term “digital capitalism” is introduced [3].

Arnaumh (discusscontribs)

Digital Labour BenefitsEdit

Digital labour has completely changed the relationship between the employer and the employee. In general, people think that the new relationship established benefits the employer and harms the worker, but employees can also benefit from digital labour, such as the authors of 'Digital labour and development: impacts of global digital labour and the gig economy on worker livelihood' argue.

The most obvious benefit that digital work has over workers is the creation of jobs. This is something highly valued in countries that are developing, since it increases the development of their economies. In fact, “governments like those of Nigeria, Malaysia and the Philippines, and large organisations like the [[w:World Bank|World Bank], are increasingly coming to view digital labour as a mechanism for helping some of the world’s poorest escape the limited opportunities for economic growth in their local contexts” (Graham & Hjorth & Lehdonvirta, 2017, p. 24) [4].

Countries with a more intense red are those that use the Internet the most. Digital labour contributes to increasing the use of the network throughout the world.

Another benefit of digital labour is the promotion of Internet connectivity for people who previously did not have access. The platforms that offer digital labour want the supply of workers to be as large as possible. For this reason, they make an effort so that the Internet reaches all parts of the world. Again, this benefits underdeveloped countries where there was not a consolidated connection (Graham & Hjorth & Lehdonvirta, 2017).

Thanks to digital labour, some workers from countries with weak economies have managed to exponentially improve their annual profits. Previously, these people worked in jobs with low remuneration, such as computer technician or cashier. Digital labour, which allows that "anyone can, in theory, do any work from anywhere" (Graham & Hjorth & Lehdonvirta, 2017, p. 4), gives them the opportunity to find a better paid job outside the impoverished economies of their countries.

The authors of 'Employability of offshore service sector workers in the Philippines: opportunities for upward labour mobility or dead-end jobs?' identify another benefit that digital work has on workers: the disappearance of the intermediary figure, which makes labour experiment a functional improvement and increases the added value of the work in the service chains (Beerepoot & Hendriks, 2013) [5]. In fact, digital labour platforms try to delete intermediaries so that job seekers from anywhere can have access to foreign demand, not just local demand (Beerepoot & Hendriks, 2014) [6].

The disappearance of intermediaries in the job search processes generates another digital labour benefit at the same time, since it eliminates economic exclusion. This is another point in favour of digital work because it helps to find work for job seekers who have difficulties or problems doing it in their environment. This is possible because digital labour allows them to access international markets via network. As Graham, Hjorth and Lehdonvirta indicates (2017), “millions of people have turned to outsourced digitally mediated work as a way to transcend some of the constraints of their local labour markets” (p. 3). In addition, digital labour also helps to find employment in local markets from anonymity using a nickname.

There is another aspect of digital work that benefits the worker, but also the employer. It is the specialization. In a context where the offer is so big, “work is turned into a commodity in which workers are transformed into a ‘computation service’” (Graham & Hjorth & Lehdonvirta, 2017, p. 3). The person that offers a better service will get the job because he or she is the best positioned. That is why “one of the main potentials of digital work in the context of development is ‘skill arbitrage’” (Graham & Hjorth & Lehdonvirta, 2017, p. 8).

Amazon logo.

Contrary to what many people think, workers derive benefits from digital work, as we have seen. However, employers benefit the most, since they have a much larger labour supply available thanks to the Internet. The authors of 'Amazon Mechanical Turk and the commodification of labour' explain that having a greater offer allows them to set working conditions that are very beneficial for their enrichment, but harmful for workers.

One of the most significant crowdsourcing sites is Amazon Mechanical Turk, which exploits the advantages offered by digital labour. The platform hires workers through Internet at low cost and without any social protection or moral obligation. By doing this, Amazon Mechanical Turk and the rest of digital labour platforms are clearly benefited (Bergvall-Kåreborn & Howcroft, 2014) [7].

The new relationship between employers and employees has benefited workers in some aspects. However, until there is a firm regulation of this type of work, companies will be the great beneficiaries of this new situation, which enables them “to shift costs and offload risk as they access a flexible, scalable workforce that sits outside the traditional boundaries of labour laws” (Bergvall-Kåreborn & Howcroft, 2014, p. 1).

Alvarocarrena (discusscontribs)

Digital Labour DrawbacksEdit

There are, however, significant issues with digital labour. The online workforce is still relatively young, which has allowed large companies and con-men alike, to take full advantage. This includes huge legislative holes and a lack of transparency among other huge issues which thus far has only bred corruption. Digital labour as a lot of us know it can be seen as work enabled by an online 'information society', many people are able to work from the leisure of their own home by working on a laptop or desktop. This is often earned, however, there are many situations in which digital labour is not a benefit, instead it is a huge hinderance that has the potential to ruin lives as Digital Labour is a world in which; "Exploitation is organized through labour markets, where labourers have specific state-guaranteed rights and freedoms that frees them not only from personal dependences, but also from controlling the conditions for the realization of their labour to make ends meet." (Fisher & Fuchs, 2015, p159) [8] Digital labour follows this model, however doesn't necessarily have all of the of the state-guaranteed rights as will be discussed moving forward.

Digital labour platforms provide immense flexibility for workers, Job security is, however, a common concern, and digital workers are exposed to a handful of risks regarding their employment status as well as the benefits and payments that they receive. Unfair rejection is a major concern on crowdworking platforms, with communication between workers and project management often being unclear or lacking, giving workers little direction as to what is expected of them (Berg, 2018)[9]. It is common for platforms to have an algorithm to monitor submissions and evaluate work quality and efficiency. A system such as this may lack precision without human supervision, which can lead to work being rejected despite how well it might have been completed. Workers in turn receive little to no feedback on their work, since management often will have no insight on why work was rejected by the algorithm. This not only inhibits crowdworkers opportunity to improve their skills, but also impacts their ability to get further work, since many rejections and negative ratings can affect employability chances, and even cause for workers accounts to be deactivated. Crowdworkers have little protection when it comes to wage theft; If rejected work is still of use for project management, crowdworkers might not get a wage for their labour provided. According to surveys held by the Geneva International Labour Office, “Almost nine out of ten workers [...] have had work rejected or have had payment refused” (Berg, 2018 p.74)[10]. Of the workers surveyed only 12 per cent stated that all rejections were justified, and 50 per cent of the participants stated that only some of the work rejections were justified. As requesters have the power to reject work without reasoning, lack of transparency provides a major problem for crowdworkers, as it allows requesters to take advantage of the labour that crowdworkers provide.

work rejection survey[11] by platform (percentages).

There are many poor countries that digital labour is able to take full advantage of, whether it be through poor legislation in regard to workers' rights, or citizens in a place of extreme poverty and desperation, who get themselves into a job market that takes advantage of them, cheats them, and then throws them away when done. This is prevalent in places such as Malaysia, in which the government pushes digital labour scheme which is supposed to make opportunities for those in need. It also happens in Sub-Saharan Africa, however, instead of a government, the Digital labour campaign is ran by the Rockefellar foundation. These 'opportunities' just pits people against each other in a highly competitive environment where there is no job security as is highlighted here in a review that interviews digital labour workers. In the article, one of the workers named Kim-Ly found herself unemployed as her employer; ‘closed the contract altogether without prior warning’ (Graham, Hjorth & Lehdonvirta, 2017, p145) [12] which would not be possible elsewhere in the world. This happened to Kim-Ly due to a lack of legislation that stops employers from simply cutting off employees.

These sorts of things will also happen in the west where companies have the ability move from state to state to get past legislation but the reason that businesses have to do that is because in the western world legislation is beginning to catch up whereas in the eastern world there is still plenty space for courrupt practices and it makes the less technologically advanced places more vulnerable. The fact that these people are working for a faceless boss who they cannot have any human interaction with allows for heartless statistic based decisions, a Newsweek article points out that; ‘Workers may have to accept near-constant monitoring of every mouse click and conversation (Zittrain, 2009). [13] The world of digital labour is ruthless and heartless, the businesses offering jobs can see everything that you do, and if you take even a single brake to say; check up on your ill child, you could risk losing your job.

The Rockefeller Foundation pushed a digital labour campaign that offered impoverished people what turned out to be very unsecure jobs.

It can be argued that the intention of these initiatives are good, as they do provide jobs and garner results, however, upon looking further into the topic it is clear that in the cases of review that was cited earlier (Graham, Hjorth & Lehdonvirta, 2017) [14]. People seem to be more often than not, on the short end of the straw. these plans by huge entities such as the Rockefeller foundation, which to take on people in impoverished areas is a means to take advantage of them, not to help them.


There are certain strategies that could be set in place in order to help protect digital labour. Market based strategies help to encourage transparency between the employer and the employee. If both consumers and buyers alike have more information surrounding the products and production practises that they intend on engaging in, it would be less likely for firms to act unethically through exploitation. However, the problem with this is that this that digital labour is a fairly new concept. Therefore, market based strategies that work on transparency tend to lend themselves to physical and tangible goods, whereas digital labour is harder to trace. (Graham, 2017, p.154) Existing strategies such as, consumer watchdogs, certification schemes and activist organisations could be revised to try and fit the digital labour demands. Such as, updating ethical standards and setting social and economic protections on the living wage. (Graham, 2017, p.154) In the past, is workers were unsatisfied, one would protest and strike in hopes of improving working standards. However, the problem with digital labour is the lack of solidarity within the field. The anonymity within the field makes it hard to organise such strikes. However, another problem is also the oversaturation within the field. Due to the highly competitive tendencies within the field, workers are easily replaced, therefore individuals cannot afford to go on strike or the strike would in effective in itself. Mark Graham et al. suggests that one could create a transnational digital workers or trade secretariat to attempt to combat the problems at hand. However, due to the globalised nature of digital labour, it would be hard to put into practise due to the confined political boundaries policy makers are faced with. However, research shows that despite the globalised nature of digital labour work, the countries that exhibit the most demand and supply of digital labour is still quite centralised. Primarily concentrated in regions such as, the United States, United Kingdom, and such- east Asian countries like Malaysia and India. This could be a good starting point in setting up certain regulations such minimum wage based of the country of residence and working contracts for workers protection and job security. (Graham, 2017, p.156)

Digital EconomyEdit

Platform Market Capitalisation, US Dollar(Billions)

[15]The digital economy can be defined as an economy based on computer/internet technologies. Due to the worldwide capitalist crisis, neoliberalism and the logic of commodification of everything have suffered cracks, fissures and holes. There is an arrival of the interest in Marx, which expects us to consider the role of Marxism in Media and Communication Studies.[16]Dallas Smythe helps us to remember the significance of commitment with Marx's works for studying the media in capitalism critically. Both Critical Theory and Critical Political Economy of the Media and Communication have been criticized for being uneven.[17]At last, Marx composes, a brutal power which controls over everything, including the capitalist himself (1964: 156). The prompt sign of the alienation of species-getting to be described in Manuscripts is the subjection of the labourer to the rule of the factory master.[18] In today’s digital economy, the danger of disturbance is high agile market players are getting through conventional industry limits to capture market share example Airbnb has upset the hotel industry, Uber the taxi industry, and Amazon retail.

There are four key priorities for digital business planning

1. Develop a demand-driven business plan To survive and thrive in the digital economy, companies should operate as a demand-driven business plan that moves the concentration from the supply chain to the value chain. To widen the organizer's viewpoint to incorporate all players associated with delivering the final product or service to the customer. As per this model, planners are called in to solve problems only in exceptional cases, else, they've focused around on creating value and generating revenue

2. Improve responsiveness As companies feel the pressure to advance toward faster planning. To expand agility and responsiveness, companies need a single wellspring of information with the goal that all roles can accurately assess conditions, reproduce the effect of activities, and execute decisions in real time.

3. Plan holistically The digital economy requires a well-defined plan from start to finish that broadens the options on the entire value chain. Many companies begin inside, coordinating arranging exercises crosswise over lines of business. Moving outward, companies then incorporate suppliers so as to team up, plan, and deliver more effectively.

4. Increase strategic agility Agility in companies’ strategies is a must in this digital era. Companies in this front moved to self-regulating and adaptive planning models. With live data and real-time analytics companies can increase their profits.

Ala Venkat (discusscontribs) 16:46, 28 March 2019 (UTC)


As stated, as digital media becomes more and more prevalent in our society, the benefits and drawbacks also become clearer. It is clear that is consists of the exploitation of labour forces that produce what we know as the internet and our products.

Protest against Apple for ignoring Foxconn's Labor Conditions

As explained in the benefits section, the biggest advantage of digital labour is the effect it has on poor and impoverished countries. Digital labour creates many jobs for the people that reside in these countries and gives access to the internet that was not accessible beforehand. It also improves the annual profit of said countries and removes the intermediary figure in the employment process. Therefore, we can see that the workforce of a company do benefit from digital labour however due to their availability of labour, the employer benefits the most. An example was given of w:Amazon Mechanical Turk, to explain the exploitation of workers at a low cost. Ultimately we can conclude that digital labour has a negative effect and exploits the workforce of the employer, for their benefit.

The drawbacks are also extremely clear and it could be argued that they outweigh the benefits. Digital labour comes with substantial negative effects such as taking advantage of the companies due to their younger workforce's and of poorer countries. Conclusively, digital labour is the major cause of people being used for their services and being disregarded afterwards. While there are some benefits, the treatment of the workers cannot be excused. Strategies to battle the exploitation within digital labour are present but difficult to put into effect or make a difference. The anonymity, lack of solidarity and over saturation makes strikes and other tactics extremely difficult to carry out.

Strategies to battle the exploitation within digital labour are present but difficult to put into effect or make a difference. The anonymity, lack of solidarity and over-saturation makes strikes and other tactics extremely difficult to carry out. Finally, our section on Digital Economy explains his critiques of digital labour and shows the four key priorities of Digital Business Planning.

To conclude, due to the exploitation of workers in digital labour, they are trapped in a world of being a small part of a massive corporation. The work force feel alienated from reality and no matter how unwilling they are to do this occupation, the employer feels as though it is necessary for the product and the profit. Additionally, people in poorer countries have no choice but to be taken advantage of through digital labour to survive.


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  15. Ursula Huws (2014-12-05) Labor in the Global Digital Economy : The Cybertariat Comes of Age, (pp.28-32)
  16. Christian Fuchs 2012-09-19, Dallas Smythe Today - The Audience Commodity, the Digital Labour Debate, Marxist Political Economy and Critical Theory.
  17. Nick Dyer-Witheford(2010) Digital labour, species-becoming and the global worker,(pp.496-496)
  18. Guido Kaup(13-July-2018) Four Key Priorities For Digital Business Planning.