Living in a Connected World/Digital Labour on Social Media Platforms



n their article What is Digital Labour, Christian Fuchs and Sebastian Sevignani assert that the concept of digital labour relates to how the “dominant capital accumulation model of contemporary corporate Internet platforms is based on the exploitation of users’ unpaid labour”. Social media users engage in the creation of original content on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and this content, in turn, is appropriated by social media websites for profit.

As Fuchs sees it, the emergence of social media and its increasing popularity has resulted in a digitalised form of exploitation that is similar to theorist Karl Marx’s view of the everyday worker being exploited and oppressed under capitalist society. An extension of capitalism in the digital realm, concepts of digital labour examine the ways in which a user’s contribution and participation online, referred to as “digital work”, is appropriated by capital to make money. The individual’s time spent online, Fuchs argues, results in digital labour that is, for the most part, usually unpaid.

Perspectives on digital labour begin with explanations of digital work and the reasons for user participation on these exploitative social media platforms. Sevignani uses Facebook as an example, highlighting its use for maintaining personal relationships which fosters a sense of belonging among its users. Cooperating together, a collaboration emerges as social networking users engage in the creation and exchange of content, producing a specific type of sociality that is meaningful. Described as “cognitive digital work”, Fuchs notes that much like humans use their brains, mouths, and hands to translate their experiences, the individual uses the Internet and websites like Facebook and Twitter as instruments to organise and present their life experiences in the online sphere (e.g. a user profile, a blog post). Digital work, therefore, is the organisation of human experiences that creates a product of information. Interaction between users becomes routinized on social media websites which results in a consistent and reliable flow of data. According to digital labour theorists, this is central to the exploitation process. While this chapter will examine digital labour through the lens of social media use, theorists argue that any type of participation online can result in a form of labour exploitation. [1]

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Pinterest – all of these platforms offer Internet users different ways of engaging in the digital world; maintaining social relationships, watching user generated videos, microblogging, etc. What they all have in common, however, is that they are owned by corporate Internet companies that use a targeted advertising business model that appropriates a user’s data (e.g. activity on social networking accounts, user patterns) and turs it into a commodity. [2]

History: Capitalism and Karl MarxEdit

Karl Marx

Explanations of digital labour have long been tied to the workings of theorist Karl Marx. Identifying struggles within the class system, Marx highlights the imbalance of wealth and power between the ruling class and working class, arguing that wage labour is a form of exploitation. Ideas of “labour” have evolved in the wake of the digital age compared to the more conventional definitions of labour in Marxist theory. Still, Marx’s view of economic class conflict can be applied to the concept of digital labour to better understand the exploitation of social media users; a process in which people’s interactions with digital communication devices and social networking websites are appropriated for profit by the capitalist framework that Marx argued is embedded in society.

Capitalism is a social-economic system based on the private ownership of the means of production (e.g. factories, land, technology) and distribution of goods. Karl Marx argued that class divide in society is based on the individual’s relationship to the means of production. A structural perspective, Marxist theory asserts that the capitalist society is divided into two key classes; the property-owning bourgeoisie (the ruling class) and the wage-working proletariat (the working class), the latter considered the bottom tier of society. Under the capitalist mode of production, the relationship between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat is exploitative in nature as the worker’s pay is considerably disproportionate to the value of the goods that they produce (known as surplus value), with the ruling class deriving the profits from the production process at the expense of the proletariat. Owning solely their capacity to work, the working class become alienated due to their inability to control the conditions of their labour or the products that they produce.

Marx predicted that the proletariat would inevitably grow conscious of their oppression and overthrow the capitalist system, which has yet to occur in modern day society. Marx argued that this is due to the proletariat being unaware of their exploitation, commonly referred to as false consciousness. The working class have been socialised into believing that the unequal distribution of power is a fair and natural component of society due to the ruling class controlling the institutions responsible for socialising individuals (e.g. media, education). Ideologies of the ruling class are ingrained in the proletariat through this socialisation process. [3]

Work and Labour in SocietyEdit

Establishing concepts of work and labour is essential to understanding theories of digital labour and its relationship to capitalism. In his book Digital Labour and Karl Marx, author Christian Fuchs adopts Marx’s characterisation of work and labour to break down these key distinctions.

According to Marx, work is a “conscious productive activity that transforms and organizes nature so that humans produce their means of subsistence in order to satisfy human needs, which constitutes the production of material life itself”. Work is defined as a creative, artistic, meaningful activity that is a necessary component of all societies, a process by which individuals make use of their surrounding resources and technology to elevate nature, culture and society. Under the social-political sphere, Marx argued that economies of all societies involve the process of production, distribution and consumption and therefore the concept of work becomes embedded into this system, resulting in an uneven distribution of power, class conflict and exploitation.

In isolation of capitalism, Marx defined labour as being a natural condition of human existence, an interchange between individual and nature. Under the capitalist system, however, it becomes a specific form of labour that is inherently exploitative. The worker submits to the capitalist authority by selling their labour in exchange for a salary that is unequal to the value of the goods that they produce. A product of human labour is referred to by Marx as a commodity, which has both a use value and exchange value. [4]

Digital LabourEdit

The digital labour theory argues that the capitalist economy has resulted in the corporate exploitation of social media users for profit. In his book The Internet as Playground and Factory, author Trebor Scholz applies Karl Marx’s theory of labour exploitation to the online sphere, asserting that the activities of social media users and the content that they produce is a digitalised form of commodity because it is appropriated by the platform to generate profit. Popular use of modern technology (e.g. laptops, iPhones, tablets) and social media websites has led to a shift in labour markets. Currently, users on the Internet create most of the content online; they search, link, tweet, share photos. Accumulating an exposed data trail, this information is tracked, analysed, used to predict users’ habits and interests, and ultimately seized for financial profit by Internet corporations. “The divide between leisure time and work has vanished so that every aspect of our life drives the digital economy”, argues Scholz. Alexander Galloway shares similar concerns, adding that it is now impossible to precisely differentiate between non-productive leisure “play” activity and digital labour within the sphere of online exploitation. Whether it’s an image posted to Instagram or a series of reflective Tweets, the entire fabric of our participation on social media websites has become the core material used for capital profit.[5]

"We get all the culture; they get all the revenue."

McKenzie Wark on Digital Labor

Discussing the capital accumulation model of social media websites that focus on targeted advertisement, Sevignani suggests that the defining aim is to generate more users and encourage users to spend as much time on the platform as possible. The content of the ads is specifically focused on promoting related commodities. Fuchs argues that the advertisements are ideological in nature because they make bold claims about the commodity in relation to the user; it’s something that they must engage with if they wish to have a meaningful experience online. [6]

Mies draws an analogy between digital labour and housework, arguing that they are both a “source of unchecked, unlimited exploitation.” Houseworkers are often coerced by feelings of love, commitment or family responsibility. A platform like Facebook, which boasts over a billion users, monopolises the supply of a social networking service to its users which allows them too, almost invisibly, exercise a form of coercion through which users are chained to commercial platforms. Social media users place tremendous importance on websites like Facebook to maintain social relationships and they therefore cannot disengage from the service or, consequently, the exploitation process. [7]

Similar to Marx’s claim of the proletariat’s false consciousness, active users on Facebook and similar platforms are unaware of their exploitation because they do not see their time spent online as a form of labour. Discussing this disconnect, Trebor Scholz says, “It does not feel, look, or smell like labour at all. Joining Facebook and social media is optional”. Scholz argues that because participation on these platforms is optional and not obligatory, it portrays users as free agents who can opt out at any time. This aura of autonomy, according to Scholz, is the central reason why online exploitation is so effective. Scholz uses Marx’s concepts of work and labour to highlight the exploitation process, arguing that the content produced by a user is a form of creative work, a meaningful activity, which is subsequently exploited by the platform on which it is produced and shared. [8]

Corporate Social Media and Free LabourEdit

In her chapter “Free Labour,” Tiziana Terranova defines free labour as work that is not a result of employment, rather it is work that is unpaid and given for free. “It is unwaged, enjoyed and exploited.” Free labour comes in many different forms, including social media interaction, building websites, participating in mailing lists, or modifying software packages. It is becoming more apparent than ever, however, that corporate social media websites know the number one source of value is user participation. Tracing back to 1996, Terranova notes that at the peak of free labour in AOL chat room moderation, over 30,000 “community leaders” were helping AOL generate an estimated 7 million a month. [9]

According to Christian Fuchs, a user’s activity creates profile data, social relations, user-generated content and transaction data (also known as browsing behaviour) which is the defining commodity offered for sale to advertising companies by social media corporations. In doing so, this creates a pathway for advertisers to select specific user groups that they wish to target.

Facebook Logo (2015)

Fuchs notes in his discussion of digital labour that there are three key elements of online exploitation.

  • Coercion: Users are ideologically coerced to use social media platforms to create and share content, exchange information and engage in communication. Using social networking websites (e.g. Facebook, Twitter) has become integral to how we maintain social relationships, an important part of our lives. Without such communication, Fuchs argues our lives would be less meaningful.
  • Alienation: Companies, not users, own the platforms and generated profit.
  • Appropriation: Social media users spend considerable amounts of time on these corporate platforms that are funded by advertising capital accumulation models. A user’s time is the value created by their unpaid digital labour. From a Marxist perspective, social media users are unconsciously engaging in their own exploitation which ultimately benefits the ruling class.

The process of exploitation, Fuchs argues, is established when a user creates the data commodity. Having no control or agency over this data, a user’s time spent online is therefore objectified. Through terms of service and privacy policies, corporate social media platforms acquire ownership of this user data which is then offered as data commodity to advertisers. The act of turning data into profit, known as the value realization process, occurs when targeted users click on or view an advertisement. Fuchs notes that not all data commodities are sold and some are more popular than others. Still, the act of exploitation always occurs at the point of the production and appropriation of the commodity, as well as the commodity’s sale. [10]

Fan LabourEdit

Investigating the work of fan writers and artists who post their content on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media websites, author Abigail De Kosnik notes that these online activities are contributing massively to corporate revenues. The abundance of fan contributions to the Internet can be regarded as a type of unpaid labour, Kosnik says. Fan labour generates a tremendous amount of buzz and hype for the product. Enthusiastic fans dedicate large portions of their time to discussing or posting about their favourite types of media, often creating Twitter or Facebook pages dedicated to providing a continuous stream of updates on their favourite artist, movie, or television show. It’s essentially free promotion for the product, a new form of publicity and advertising.

Advertising revenue has proven to be a stable source of income for YouTubers and bloggers, and Kosnik notes that while most contributions by fans are largely unpaid, they could potentially receive compensation from Google AdSense or the YouTube Partner Program if companies would allow them to use copyrighted images, text, sound, and video. Fans are routinely sued or served with cease-and-desist letters for infringing copyright violations, while their unpaid promotion of the product on platforms like Twitter is exploited for profit.

According to Scholz, any possibility for fans to earn compensation for their labour would largely depend on both fans and corporations acknowledging that fandom activity is a form of labour. “It contributes value to the commodity itself and is therefore worthy of compensation." [11]

Alienation in Digital LabourEdit

Digital labour results in various forms of user alienation on social networking websites. Grounded in theorist Karl Marx’s “Alienation theory”, Marx argues that there are four distinct forms of alienation under capitalism. Included in Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts [12], these are (1) Alienation from oneself. (2) Alienation from the objects of labour. (3) Alienation from the products of labour. (4) Alienation from others and society.

Applying Marx’s ideas of alienation to digital labour on social media platforms, Mark Andrejevic makes the following claim:

Each form of intentional user-generated content – a blog post, a Facebook update, a Tweet, is redoubled in the form of ‘cybernetic commodities’. While they are created by users, they are not controlled by users, who have little choice over how and when this data is generated, and little say in how it is used. In this sense, we might describe the generation and use of this data as the alienated or estranged dimension of their activity. To the extent that this information can be used to predict and influence user behaviour it is an activity that returns to users in an unrecognizable form as means of fulfilling the imperatives of others.

—Mark Andrejevic, Surveillance and Alienation in the Online Economy, 2011

Andrejevic expands on the coercion process of social networking websites, citing it as a main source of alienation threat. Individuals are social beings that crave communication and meaningful connection with others. In an information society, this means that digital media has become the essential tool for interacting with other people and sustaining meaningful relationships. If people do not interact with social media websites to engage with their peers, their lives, according to Andrejevic, will become less meaningful. This is particularly true for young people who are the most active users on platforms like Facebook. Andrejevic suggests that the coercion process involves the user being threatened by the idea of isolation and the social disadvantages that will follow if they disengage from social media use. The threat of alienation encourages the user to participate and, as a result, locks them in the exploitation process. [13]

Fuchs notes that the average time a user spends on social media relates to its level of profit value. The more time a particular group of users spend on the platform, the more valuable the data commodity is. 15-25 year olds spend a considerable number of minutes per day on Facebook and Twitter compared to 75-85 year olds. 15-25 year olds therefore constitute a more valuable commodity because they provide a higher average of labour per day which generates more data to be sold. Andrejevic considers this a form of alienation and estrangement as the user is completely disconnected from their free labour. [14]

Authorship and OwnershipEdit

Users are alienated from the instruments of their labour because they do not have power over their own content or the handling of their data, nor do they control the social media platform itself. Analysing the corporate and user divide, Fuchs notes that 61.1% of Facebook’s class B stock is directly controlled by 12 executive officers and directors, with partner companies acting as shareholders. There is an exploitive relationship between stockholders and users at the heart of Facebook; the users, classed as economically poor, do not control ownership of the platform, yet they create the wealth that is controlled and owned by stockholders. Users do not hold the power to influence the rules or conditions of Facebook, including the content, terms of service, the privacy policy, or the advertisements – which are emboldened by the commodification of user data. [15]

Examining the practices of data mining for intellectual property on social media platforms, Jessica Reyman states that although these websites give off the impression that they are spaces in which online users are encouraged to create, share, and connect with other users, the underlying practices at work transform a user's activity into data that is to be used for privatized and commercial gain, arguing that each social, creative, or intellectual activity a user engages in online is ultimately compromised in the data commodification process. Reyman goes on to suggest that data is not merely a by-product of technology that is to be bought and sold but it also forms a dynamic narrative about the paths we have chosen to take as users navigating the digital world. Everything relating to a user’s activity, from the technologies they have used, how they have composed themselves in particular online spaces, to whom they have participated with, is made vulnerable and exposed.

Debates surrounding the use of user data are largely focused on the ownership status of information on social media platforms. Corporate Internet websites know that user information is a valuable business asset because not only does it generate profit but it promotes a continuous flow of information that is specifically designed to encourage more user activity. User data, Reyman argues, is not created by an author-user, but rather is a by-product of technological algorithms. This means that the conditions of user contributions are not controlled by the original authors of those contributions, social media users, but by the platforms that appropriate the content for commercial gain. [16]

Inverse FetishismEdit

Fuchs' concept of “inverse fetishism” involves the social media user denying claims that they are being exploited by highlighting the social advantages they receive from using the service. The inverse fetish of a platform like Facebook, Fuchs suggests, includes statements like: “Facebook does not exploit me because I benefit from it by connecting to other users." The reality of the user being merely an object that serves the profit interests of Facebook is concealed behind the perceived advantages of user interaction.

Kruger notes the psychological reason for this, stating that the threatening realisation of the user being coerced, exploited and alienated must be fended off on a mental plane. In contrast to Fuchs example of denial (i.e. “I am not exploited because there are benefits to using social media”), Kruger’s research found different responses to the exploitation process, such as: “Facebook exploits me, but that’s not so bad as long as I can benefit from it by connecting to other users.” This reasoning is categorized under John Steiner’s “turning a blind eye” concept, a term he used to describe the various ways the individual will defend themselves against the knowledge or realisation that they are being exploited.

Steiner notes that it's a specific kind of response that is disengaged and does not consider the extent to which one is being exploited. "It conveys the right degree of ambiguity as to how conscious or unconscious the knowledge [of exploitation] is." Sevignani writes, "Users are kind of aware that people who own and control social networking platforms are appropriating societally produced surplus." Sevigani's use of "kind of" highlights the ambiguity Steiner is referring to when discussing the user's view of the exploitation process. From a Marxist perspective, it's a position that is similar in nature to the ambiguous perspective of the working class (i.e. "It's just the way things are"). [17]

Information SocietyEdit

Information Society is a term that has long been debated over it's exact definition. It is generally believed to describe a society in which the creation, distribution and manipulation of information has become the most important economic and cultural activity. It is seen that digital information and new communications technologies have led to a information explosion and in turn, has caused all forms of social organisation to change. People who take part in an information society are referred to as digital citizens. The concept of an information society argues that we are now in a totally new stage in our society. [18]

Today, in an information society, there is an argument that there is no longer a distinction between our private life and our work life. Mobile phones, laptops and networked computers have meant that we are far more mobile and no longer need to be at an office desk or workspace. We can now get an e-mail about something like a report at any time of the day, there is a pressure for workers to be 'always on' and ready to receive information. To be successful in the current work climate, you need to be willing to be a 'node' in a networked economy. [19]

Computers are everywhere we look now, they take us into an information ecology that consists of networks, systems, processes, technologies and people. We live in a society where interaction and use of computers is prominent and that is something that is not likely to change anytime soon. Ten year olds, teenagers and adults all inhabit information society and inhabits everything we do.[20] Our jobs and our education have drastically changed since computerisation, millions of jobs now exist in technology that years ago never would have. The way we receive information in the current age changes how we are at work or school. [21]

In 'Theories of the Information Society' by Frank Webster, John B. Goddard identifies four elements which indicate the transition to an 'information society':[22]

  • 1. Information has become a key strategic resource on which the very organisation of the world economy is dependent. Our modern world demands the co-ordination of globally distributed manufacture, planning between sovereign states and marketing throughout continents. Information is essential in our contemporary world.
  • 2. Computer and communications technologies provide the infrastructure that enables information to be processed and distributed, new technology means information can be handled on a historically unprecedented scale and and monitor economic, social and political affairs on a global scale.
  • 3. The rapid growth of the 'tradable information sector' of the economy. This means the explosive growth of services such as new media (satellite broadcasting, cable, video) and online databases (cloud based systems) providing information on a host of subjects ranging from stock-market dealings, commodity prices, patent listings and currency fluctuations, to scientific and technological journal articles. These developments have seen radical re-organisation of the world's financial system.
  • 4. The growing 'informatisation' of the economy is facilitating the integrating of national and regional economies. Immediate and effective information processing and exchange, economies have become truly global. Companies can now develop global strategies for production, storage and distribution of goods and services. Boundaries made by geographical locations are now being pushed back further and further.

Frank Webster has spent much of his work looking at the five different definitions of 'information society'; technological, economic, occupational, spatial and cultural.


The key idea of this concept is that breakthroughs in information processing, storage and transmission have led to the application of information have led to the application of information and communication technology (ICT) in virtually all corners of society. Cheap information processing and storage technologies, such as computers, leads to the development of better telecommunications that in turn can dramatically improve management and distribution of information.


Sometimes referred to as information economy, it highlights the fact that the economy in our society is based on the effective acquisition, dissemination, and use of information, rather than on the means of production. Austrian economist Fritz Machlup devoted a lot of his life looking at the size/growth of information industries such as education, the media, information machines and information services. He claimed that is is possible to add economic value to each of these and that they contribute to the gross national product (GNP) of a country. Many people argue that currently our economy is reliant on the information we are now able to access, and since information is in theory infinite, we are currently living in a society where the economy is based around an infinite resource. [23]


One way of looking at the emergence of an 'information society' is by focusing on occupational change. We have only achieved an 'information society' when most of jobs in our society are in information work. Webster argues that this concept means we are only in an information society when "clerks, teachers, lawyers and entertainers outnumber coalminers, steelworkers, dockers and builders." [24]


Here there is a major emphasis is put on information networks which connect locations and in consequence have dramatic effects on the organisation of time and space. This emphasises the importace of information networks linking together locations within and between towns, religions, nations, continents and the entire world.


This is the most acknowledged conception of an 'information society'. Each of us is aware, from the pattern of our everyday lives, that there has been a massive amount of increase in information in our social circulation. There is more information in our everyday lives than ever before. Television programming is on 24 hours a day and now we can access all the films/TV shows we want at the click of a button due to streaming services such as Netflix or Now TV. Even our phones, something we fit in our pocket, holds a vast amount of information. According to Webster, "we inhabit a media-laden society." [25]

Flaws in an Information SocietyEdit

Although highlighting these different forms of information society, Webster himself is skeptical over "whether it is a technological, economic, occupational, spatial or cultural conception, we are left with highly problematic notions of what constitutes, and how to distinguish, an 'information society'." [26]Webster states there is a variety of criteria which purport to measure the emergence of an information society but there are many scholars who, using different indicators, argue that we are yet to actually enter an information society. [27]

Philosopher Gordon Graham has made the point that when the term 'information' is applied to an online context it only refers to the ability to access digital data from a device. This causes a problem because it makes no reference to the quality or usefulness of information. [28] Graham claims that digital information can lead to misinformation and that information posted on the web can be wholly misleading and incorrect rather than knowledgable. [29] If this is the case and the information that people are getting is misleading, then it will lead to people in society being misled and taking in information that is potentially wrong.

The Network EffectEdit

A network effect is the effect that one user of a good/service has on the value of that particular product to other people. When looking at a network effect it come down to how many people are using the product, the more people use it, the more value it holds in society. The network effect plays a key role in the popularity in the like of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. The more people join as users of the site, then the more likely other people are willing to join. If there are a lot of their friends on social media sites, then it is a way for people to stay connected with who they know and find out information regarding what people or up to or just chat to the in general.

Robert Hassan argues that we live in a society where digital information is "at its root, ideological."[30] He believes that digital information spreads the ideas of our culture and society. Hassan goes on to relate the fact that the idea of an information society itself has become a concept which falls to the network effect. If countries start to rely on an 'information society' then other countries will soon follow. [31] So many countries now rely on the value of information that "connectivity and access to networks is simply a part of what life is."[32]

The network effect means that old media, the traditional form of communication and expression, now speeds up. Communication in general speeds up, economies speed up and life speeds up.[33]

Network SocietyEdit

The concept of a network society is an expression that looks at how the spread of networked, digital information and communication technologies has impacted the economy, politics and culture of our society. The network society accelerated at a rapid state, new technologies mean that our ability to communicate with each other is getting faster and easier.

The network society now is a form of social structure which relies on the information and communications technologies building a network that generates and distributes the information via points in the network. Nowadays, in our society, we are linked by networks in some way and this is a basic function of a network society.

Networks are seen a a key concept in looking a new media from the angle of social theory. Sociologist Manuel Castells defines the network society "as being the outcome of a historical trend where dominant functions and processes in the information age are increasingly organised around networks."[34]

Information OverloadEdit

In today's day and age are surrounded by information, we can find answers to just about any question we have by simply typing it into Google or even just asking your phone. The internet has given us unprecedented access to a vast amount of information that is available to millions of users. [35] There is now over 1 billion websites currently active on the web. [36] The availability of all this information and the speed at which we can get it, creates a problem of information overload.

Robert Hassan claims that "the problem we face is that we have nothing to measure this network to measure this network society against and so we are everyday stepping into an unknown and unpredictable future" [37] We now live in a society where information is all around us, when you consider how much information we can access "there is already too much information for us ever to ever be able to consume." [38]

Social Networks in the Network SocietyEdit

The rise of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter contain a massive amount of information that is created through users communicating, sharing and liking posts. Instant messaging on these sites allow for free and rapid communication between users, demonstrating that in the modern age we can share all we need with people, without ever meeting face-to-face. The development of a network society in modern day allows for a great deal of information to be traded on these social networking sites. Through the use of these sort of sites, network society is always altering the "cultural production in a hyper-connected world."[39] We are constantly producing and creating information when on social media by posting. We go on these sites to seek some form of information, whether it be get the news, see what friends have been up to or make arrangements with friends.

It is argued that social media is now seen as how most people socialise, Terry Flew claims it is "since it has only been with the technological advances associated with new media that the capacity of networks to operate at a scale, speed and level of complexity" [40] has allowed the social media to become the "dominant mode of social organisation."[41]


Globalisation is the process of international integration arising from the interchange of world views, products, ideas, and other aspects of culture.

We, as a society, are constantly getting new information. We seek information everyday and use information to connect with one another, a network society helps us to connect with others the other side of the world and is credited as being a major factor in helping with the concept of globalisation. Robert Hassan believes that "the networking of society, the interconnecting of people, processes, applications and leisure pursuits has led to a globalised society." [42] With this idea of globalisation, it means that if we are a network on a global scale then we can share and access information to people all over the world, as long as they have access to the internet. Every piece of information we know can be posted on the web if we wanted it to be, people can expand their knowledge quickly and engage with anyone. There is an argument that proposes globalisation has marked a fundamental shift in social relations and they way people interact with one another. [43]Yet others argue that there is no evidence to support this claim and that many developments associated with globalisation and its affect on social relations are no historically new. [44]

Castells Five Central ElementsEdit

Manuel Castells proposes that the rapid expansion of a network society is due to five central elements.

  • Information is the raw material that is necessary for any economic activity, its acts as both the input and output of new technologies.
  • ICTs have world wide effects through all forms of social activity.
  • Networking applies to all social processes and organisational forms, knowledge resides in a number of sources and therefore needs to be collectively kept in order to be effectively applied.
  • Processes, organisational structures and institutional forms need to be flexible, in order that such activities and entities can be readily altered and transformed due to possible changes.
  • The growth of specific technologies into highly integrated systems means that all industries can take on the characteristics of 'pioneer' ICT-based network enterprises such as Apple and Cisco. This includes look at the size and growth of partnerships and relations, interactivity with suppliers and consumers, management of flexibility , growing customisation of products and services, and accumulation of brand-based market value. [45]

Castells believes we have gone through an information technological revolution and that the 'network society' and information we all now can get in part of an all "encompassing worldwide phenomenon."[46]

Critical TheoryEdit

Critical Theory refers to the critique of society and culture through the application of knowledge of the social sciences and humanities.

Critical theory is a social theory with a basis in neo-Marxist philosophy. The theory provides a specific interpretation of Marxist philosophy and reinterprets some of its central economic and political notions such as commodification, reification, fetishization and critique of mass culture.[47] The therory aims to observe and understand underlying ideologies within society and culture in order to highlight inequality. Unlike other theories however, critical theory does not only seek to understand society and culture but to change it by human emancipation though consciousness and reflection. Max Horkheimer, who played a central role in the development of critical theory said: "The goal of critical theory is the transformation of society as a whole" and that the ultimate goal was to achieve a society free from injustice[48].Critical theory is opposed to all forms of human exploitation, domination and oppression.


Critical theory was developed by the Frankfurt School in Germany in the 1930s by a group of theoreticians brought together under Max Horkheimer at the Institute for Social Research.

The Institute of Social ResearchEdit

The Institute for Social Research is a research organisation for sociology and philosophy in Frankfurt, Germany. It was founded in 1923 by Felix J. Weil, a young student of Marxist philosopher Karl Korsch. Weil funded the institution with an endowment from his father Hermann Weil which allowed him to create and maintain the institution until it achieved financial independence. Financial and intellectual independence was the ultimate goal of the institution. Weil firmly believed that independence was a necessary prerequisite for theoretical innovation and unrestrained social research. The Ministry of Education had initially suggested the institution be named the 'Felix Weil Institute of Social Research but Weil declined as he wanted the institute to be know for its "contributions to Marxism as a scientific discipline, not due to the founders money".[49]

The Frankfurt SchoolEdit

Max Horkheimer (left) and Theodor Adorno

In 1930, Max Horkheimer took over as director of the Institution for Social Research and it was under his supervision that a group of thinkers emerged with a similar sociological and philosophical interest. This group of theorists and their ideologies became known as the Frankfurt School. The term refers to a number of theorists associated with the work of the institute. Although only loosely affiliated, Frankfurt School theoreticians share similar Marxist premises and approach similar issues relatIting to society and culture.[50] The Frankfurt School was influenced by the works of Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud and Györy Lukács. They were focused on social change and research and sought to address the perceived omissions of classic Marxism.

The Origin of Critical TheoryEdit

Critical theory was established by five Frankfurt School theoreticians: Max Horkheimer, Walter Benjamin, Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno, and Erich Fromm. The theory emerged as a result of their efforts to overcome limits imposed by previous philosophy. They returned to the ideas of Immanuel Kant, who believed that the primary task of philosophy was criticism rather than justification of knowledge, he argued that all philosophy should be subject to critical review. Under this influence their work took on a more critical element which resulted in a series of open-ended, probing and critical works rather than systematic philosophical statements.

The Foundations of Critical TheoryEdit

Ben Agger (2006) argued that Critical theory was based on seven foundations;

  1. It is a critique of positivism and of the assumption that theory is value free.
  2. It argues for the possibility of a better future without domination and exploitation.
  3. It sees domination as a structural phenomenon.
  4. It shows how humans, who live in structures of domination, tend to reproduce these structures in false consciousness.
  5. It is interested in everyday life such as the workplace and the family.
  6. It perceives structure and agency as dialectical.
  7. It sees liberation as a process that must be accomplished by the oppressed and exploited themselves.[51]

Fuchs simplified this further by considering these foundations in relation to aspects of Marxism, to define the key fields of study in Critical theory;

  1. Critical ethics
  2. Critique of domination and exploitation
  3. Dialectical reason
  4. Struggles and political practice
  5. Ideology critique
  6. Critique of the political economy

Critical Theory and Social MediaEdit

Critical theory is a useful tool in the critique of social media as it considers the role of social media within the commons. Social media has now entered our daily lives and plays a pivotal role in our economy and communications structure meaning that it has an impact on society and mass culture which is open to critical review. In Christian Fuchs' "Social Media:A Critical Introductions" he suggested that: "Understanding social media critically means, among other things, to engage with the different forms of sociality on the internet in the context of society.".[52] Fuchs stressed that just asking questions was not necessarily a 'critical' approach, that typical questions had a tendency to miss the underlying issues at hand and only sought positive answers from those in power without consideration for the affect of this on those not in power.

"They do not ask the question, who benefits and who has disadvantages from the use of social media ... and how the benefits of some are based on the disadvantages of others...they are concerned with how certain groups, especially companies and politicians, can benefit from social media and ignore the question of how this use benefits or harms others and society at large."

Christian Fuchs, 2014. Social Media: A Critical Introduction.

Fuchs argued that Critical theory was vital in the analysis of communication and technologies. He pointed out that, although many of us benefit from telephones, televisions, radio and the internet, etc. , the history of these technologies is deeply rooted in capitalism, colonialism, warfare, exploitation and inequality. He pointed out that Marxist thought was relevant to the analysis of these technologies and in particular the internet and social media.

"Marx described a global information network, in which "everyone attempts to inform himself" about others and "connections are introduced" (Marx 1857/1858, 161). Such a description not only sounds like an anticipation of the concept of the Internet, it is also an indication that Marx's thought is relevant for Media/Communications Studies and the study of the Internet and social media."

Christian Fuchs, 2014. Social Media: A Critical Introduction.

Critical theory looks at the power struggles within the commons. The internet and social media are power structures in their own right but also facilitate power struggle. The media is a tool for exerting power, domination and counter-power meaning it can equally be seen as a source of liberation. Media can support the expansion and commodification of the commons. Given social media's role as a potential source of domination or inequality, critical theory is an appropriate model for it's analysis and critique.[53]

Social MediaEdit

Social media can be described as “the collective of online communication channels dedicated to community-based input, interaction, content-sharing and collaboration” [54]. Social media can be the term used to describe all platforms available on the World Wide Web, and the most dominant examples of social media are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Wikipedia.

History of Social MediaEdit

We may think that social media is a new concept but it is really a further development in our social interaction with each other. When we look at the history of social media, we should look at the overall development in human communication throughout the years. Technology has continued to advance and social media is just the most recent trend and form of communication that we have developed.[55]

The telegraph, an early form of long distance communication, was invented in 1844 by Samuel Morse. It was the first form of using electricity to communicate through long-distance. With the development of the telegraph also came the development of Morse code (developed by Samuel Morse) which was an equivalent of the alphabet and numbers with different taps and clicks on the telegraph. The first message, “What hath God wrought?” was sent from Washington to Baltimore on May 24, 1844. [56]

Not long after the telegraph was being used, the telephone was invented. In 1876 Alexander Graham Bell was the first to obtain a patent from the U.S. for the telephone, the first device that allowed people to talk directly with one another over long distances. The invention of the telephone would forever change the way that humans communicate with each other. [57]

With these two early inventions as well as important others like the postal service and the radio, it is clear that human desire for sharing of information and connecting with one another was necessary. Through many adaptions and changes throughout time, the telephone and the radio are still being used today. These were some of the first inventions that allowed people to instantly reach and communicate with others across a long distance. These inventions in the 1800s were just the start to how humans would begin and learn to communicate with one another. They were the first things that led us to the forms of communication that we use today. [58]

Fast forward to the 1960s where the first form of the internet was getting started. CompuServe was one of the first forms of the internet and was originally used as a support network for an insurance company, and then was later used as an early form of email and file sharing. This allowed for true interaction with others online in the form of email and discussion forums. Shortly after that, AOL was invented and used by many. AOL allowed users to create “member profiles” which is much like the kind of social media sites we know today. [59]

Not long after this, in 1997 the first social media site was created. With the invention of computers, the internet, emailing, and user profiles, the rise of social media started. Through the following social media sites and other forms of messaging and interacting online, our technology and the way that we are able to communicate with people around the world has reached new levels.

Rise of Social MediaEdit

The first social media site was a website called Six Degrees and it lasted from 1997 to 2001. The name Six Degrees comes from the Six degrees of separation theory. This theory is the idea that all living things in the world are six or fewer steps away from each other in a way that their is a "friend to friend" chain that can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps.[60] This website allowed users to create a personal profile and then friend other users whether you were a registered user or not. Before its end in 2001, the site reached 3.5 million registered users at its peak. It was also during this time that instant messaging and blogging started to rise.[61]

The use of instant messaging on AOL really changed the way that we are able to connect with others. While AOL messaging technically ended in 2010, the introduction of it in the late 90s allowed us to still use instant messaging through texting and on other social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Blogging was also a new way for users to gain and connect with other users and readers and is a social form that is still being used online today. After Six Degrees and AOL's AIM started to establish itself, the late 90s and early 2000s saw an increase in social media websites.

Early 2000s Social MediaEdit
  • Napster Unlike earlier social media sites, instead of file sharing and text-based communication, Napster allowed users to share music. It quickly became a very large electronic music distribution platform. It was even named the fasted growing business ever and remained so up until 2013 even though they went bankrupt in 2002. Although Napster was a very popular site at the time, it eventually filed for bankruptcy after copyright controversy.
  • Friendster Friendster was invented in 2002 and was very similar to Facebook as it included Friendster college and a newsfeed. Unfortunately, due to continuous technical difficulties, Friendster never gained popularity and it soon lost to Myspace and Facebook. It was later used by a Malaysian company in 2009 and reinvented as a social gaming site in 2011. However, Friendster came to an official end in 2015.
  • Myspace Myspace was founded in 2003 and was launched in January 2004. Myspace allowed users to create their own "space" including a friends list, status updates, photos, personal page decor, and music. It was thought and hoped to redefine music, politics, dating, and pop culture. In its first month, 1 million people had signed up for Myspace. It was valued at tens of billions of dollars as of 2007. However, due to mismanagement, strategic blunders, and an overall loss to the rising Facebook, Myspace struggled to remain relevant around 2011. The website itself is still active, but there is a massive loss in popularity and it is now used more for entertainment and music purposes.
  • Second Life Second Life relaunched in 2003 after the original version, Linden World made some major upgrades. This was as social networking site that allowed users to create avatars and interact with other users or 'avatars' in this virtual world. The upgraded Second Life allowed avatars in this virtual world to have an in-game economy, a building interface, and messaging between users. It also allowed avatars to have relationships, sex, have their own religion, and gamble. By 2006 Second Life acquired over one million users and the attention of mainstream media. Second Life is still very much active today as there were 900,000 monthly users in 2015. Now, the creators are looking to transform second life into the new technology of virtual reality.[62]

Audience Engagement on Social MediaEdit

"Audience engagement is providing an outlet for audiences to interact with, be it through an empowered presenter or a physical stimulus. It is making sure you don’t presume the attention of your attendees for the duration of your event – they’re only human and their concentration will waver without a reason to focus."

Piddock, Mike. The Complete Guide to Audience Engagement.

As social media platforms continue to grow every day, networks and business must think about how to increase their engagement on their profiles to increase customers. As users are constantly one their accounts whether using the computer or through apps on their cellphones, they are constantly consuming content. This gives businesses the opportunity to market and advertise their business. Here are some ways that they can increase their audience engagement.

  • Create a Strong Social Media Presence

Find ways to keep content compelling.

  • Enable Audience Participation

Find ways to include your audience by creating more ways for comments. Use trending content and create polls for the audience.

  • Deliver Choice

Make sure that your content is available on multiple devices.

  • The 80/20 Rule

This rule says that 20% of your content should be promotional and 80% should be added value to your followers.[63]

Most Popular Types of Social Media in 2017Edit


Instagram is a free app that allows users to post pictures, videos, and short "stories" that last 24 hours. Kevin Systrom is the CEO and co-founder along with Mike Krieger the CTO and co-founder. [64] Instagram was launched in 2010, now the global community shares over 95 million photos everyday. [65]

The founders created the app with the simple purpose to make sharing photos more "fun", by adding filters and making the quality and speed a top priority. [66] Instagram also allows users to "like", "share", and "comment" on other users posts. Thus making the app interactive between users. In 2012 Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion in cash and stock when Instagram had only 12 emplloyees. [67] By the end of 2016 Instagram had 300 million daily active users. [68] Instagram offers access on the web and in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. [69]

Instagram's income is mainly generated from ads. Although Facebook does not relsease the financials of Instagram, they reported earnings of over $6 billion and certainly a portion of that is from Instagram. [70]


Facebook was launched in 2004. Facebook's mission statement as presented on their own Facebook page is "to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected". [71] Currently it is free to all users. The founder, Mark Zuckerberg, started Facebook at the age of 23 at Harvard University, where it was only for the use of students. [72] Now Facebook has 757 million daily users of all ages and backgrounds.[73] Facebook can be used to share videos, photos, status updates, direct messaging, online calling, video chatting, etc; whether they are personal or business related. According to Facebook's Wikipedia page the company employees over 17,000 people.

Facebook makes 97% of its profit from advertisements in 2016 Facebook grossed over $6 billion dollars. [74] This includes the income generated from Instagram and WhatsApp. [75] Through the use of cookies the advertisements that show up on each users pages are tailored to what they have been searching. This way advertising is more effective and directed at the audiences more likely to buy.

According to Twitters on Wikipedia page Twitter's revenue in 2016 was $2.52 billion although their net income was -$456 million.


Twitter was launched in 2006 by founders Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass, Biz Stone, and Evan Williams.[76] Twitters mission statement is "To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers." [77] Twitter has 313 million monthly users, 82% of which are active by mobile, and employee over 3,500 people around the world.[78]

Twitter allows users to "tweet" 140 character posts or "tweets" for anyone to see unless the users account is set to private. There are over 500 million tweets sent each day, this number usually increases depending on the major current events for the day. [79] For example Twitter exploded with tweets on the 2016 U.S. election day amounting in over 40 million just pertaining to the election. [80] Twitter is the ideal form of social media to express ones opinions and spread others.

According to Twitters own Wikipedia page their revenue amounted in over $2 billion but their net income was -$456 million. Needless to say Twitter is losing popularity in a sense. Twitter has been known lately to be a social media platform used by users to cyberbully, leading to the decline of users. [81]


Snapchat was launched in 2011, originally called Picaboo, by the co-founder and now CEO Evan Spiegel and co-founder and now CTO Bobby Murphy. Snapchat Inc. believes "Our products empower people to express themselves, live in the moment, learn about the world, and have fun together."[82] In 2011 Snapchat's features only allowed users to send "disappearing" pictures.[83] Now Snapchat allows users to send up to 10 second "snaps", snapchats with filters, videos, direct disappearing messages, viewing of 24 hour "stories", also Snapchat has over 10 business "stories" allowing users to stay connected on news, current events, celebrity gossip, technology, etc. Snapchat is recognized for the idea of "stories", Instagram recently came out with a similar concept.

Snapchat earned over $1 billion in advertising revenue in 2016.[84] In 2015 Snapchat had over 150 million active daily users.[85]


Youtube was launched in 2005 by former Paypal employees, Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim.They initially made Youtube as a way to share videos in one place rather than searching the internet for a specific video. In 2006 Youtube was bought by Google. Youtube allows users to browse millions of videos, upload videos, comment or like videos, etc. Youtube has a huge diversity of videos. Also Youtube has derived the word "Youtube Famous", typically people who are Youtube Famous have received thousands of views and continue to make videos like their original. For example there are fashion "youtubbers", comedy, stunts, etc. Youtube employee over 2,500 people. [86]

According to Investopedia Youtube makes a majority of its income through advertisements. Depending on the amount of views the video receives is the amount of money determined. Also the amount of ads that the video has. "In 2013, the average cost per thousand (CPM) for YouTube was $7.60. CPM (cost per thousand) is an industry term that represents revenue per thousand views. In 2013, the average income for each YouTube content creator was $7.60 per every thousand views. A video with 500 views would have earned roughly $3.80. A video like Gangnam Style with a billion views would earn $7.8 million. Some videos earn a higher or lower than average rate depending on the video content. Videos containing copyrighted music do not earn revenue for the video creator, and some topics may not attract advertisers. Others have a strong draw from advertisers and drive up the CPM."[87]


Pinterest was launched in 2010 by Co-founders CEO Ben Silbermann, Evan Sharp, and Paul Sciarra. Pinterest employees over 500 people. [88] Pinterest allows users to share ideas (pins) such as recipes, fashion, travel, interior design, etc. Pinterest offers "buyable" pins on websites other than Pinterest, and to pin a website to Pinterest to share it to a personalized pin board of the user. Pinterest allows the users to pin and make pin boards of different categories. Pinterest's main theme is "discover, pin, and buy". In September of 2015 Pinterest reached an average of 100 million monthly active users. [89]

Pinterest doesn't actually make revenue. Although Pinterest is valued at $11 billion in 2016. Pinterest is free to users and has become a third party website, because users go directly to the website of the product to purchase the item pinned. Pinterest's goal is to make $2.8 billion by 2018. "It's not as if Pinterest is sitting still - it has released a slew of ad products in recent months and restructured its sales organization to focus on its biggest advertisers in a bid to achieve that goal." [90]

Pros and Cons of Social MediaEdit

  1. Social media allows users to spread information quickly such as breaking news.
  2. Law enforcement can use social media platforms to catch criminals through video posting and more.
  3. According to the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology college students can use social media websites to create a network of new friends, which in turn helps students do better in school.
  4. Social Networking allows users to create more friends.
  5. Social media helps empower and give a voice to minorities such as business women.
  6. Through the use of social media employers can narrow their search for the right employee and vice versa.
  7. Social media has been known to have a "contagion effect" with dieting and exercise which can in turn make users more healthy.
  8. Face-to-face interaction can be promoted through social networking.
  9. Voting is promoted on social media cites.
  10. Political change is promoted on social media cites.
  11. The economy is stimulated by social media by providing thousands of jobs, etc.
  12. Community involvement is promoted through social media and empowers users to do social good.
  13. Senior citizens feel more connected to society through social media according to a Pew Internet & American Life Project study.
  14. People who are social introverted or isolated can reach out to people more easily through social media platforms.
  15. The government can quickly relay information to the public about health and safety information through social media.
  16. Social stigmas can be disarmed through the use of social media.
  17. Users can easily "crowdsource" and "crowd fund" for various needs through social media.
  18. Educational resources are more accessible with the use of social media.
  19. Small businesses and corporations can use social media as a form of free advertising.
  20. Teachers can use social media as a platform to collaborate with one another and communicate with students outside of the classroom.
  21. Musicians and artists can build their following through social media without any type of contract.
  22. Four year institutions use social media to recruit students.
  1. Social enables the spread of "fake news".
  2. Through the use of social media users take the risk of allowing the government into their private lives.
  3. According to the American Journal of Family Therapy students who heavily used social media tend to have lower grades.
  4. According to A University of Edinburgh Business School study users with more friends on Facebook tend to have a higher stress level and relationship problems offline.
  5. Social media can cause people to waste time.
  6. Using social media can effect job stability for users in the future through negative use.
  7. The 2013 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders correlates social media use with personality and brain disorders.
  8. Digital Future at the USC Annenberg School found that people spend less time communicating face-to-face because of increased use on social media.
  9. Social media can be accessed by anyone including criminals who promote violence and crime and recruit gang members.
  10. Location services promoted by social media can endanger the military and journalists by using it.
  11. Productivity is stunted by the use of social media.
  12. Cyberbullying is committed on every form of social media.
  13. Social media allows users to produce "pornography" which can lead to criminal charges.
  14. Social isolation can happen while using social media.
  15. Users who use social networking tend to fall for amateur advice and self diagnosis health problems which can cause negative effects.
  16. Social media can spread hate groups more easily.
  17. Younger users may not understand the public and viral nature of social networking sites.
  18. Through the use of social media students can cheat more easily on school assignments.
  19. Social media can subject users to an invasion of privacy.
  20. Student-teacher relationships can become inappropriate through the use of social media.
  21. Anyone using social media are subject to unauthorized sharing more easily.
  22. Students using social media can harm their chances at getting into college through negative use.
  23. Everything that users put on the internet, social media, is forever, and may have future consequences.
  24. Users of social media are subject to hacks, identity theft, and viruses.

Social Media AdvertisingEdit

The high usage of social media networks on mobile phones makes them an ideal platform for advertising [93]. According to Sprout Social “The average person clocks in more than six hours online daily” [94]. Now. Market Land depicts this further by stating: “With total activity on smartphones and tablets accounting for 60% of digital media time spent in the U.S., there’s no denying that reaching users while on mobile devices is the next big wave in advertising — and social media advertising is the best native option.” Businesses have a direct link to the consumer’s interests as they have the potential to find new clients by what the user shares on their social media account. [95]

Advertising on social media can directly promote a product to the user without disturbing them as they are already constantly on these social networking sites on their mobile phones [96]. With word-of-mouth advertising being the most trusted form of advertising in the eyes of the consumer, money is now being given influential users to spread the word about brands. [97].

By 2010, the amount of users using Facebook totalled to more than the populations of most countries and this is why it was the second most popular visited website, only falling behind the search engine, Google. [98] Facebook brought in $8.4 billion in advertising in the 10 years since May 2005, when it instigated its first advertising option [99]. Sprout Social explains how Facebook has managed to generate this revenue by stating “Not only does it have the largest audience with 1.49 billion monthly active users, but 92% of social marketers use the social network for advertising” [100]. Market Land furthers this point by stating: “mobile advertising was on course to comprise 68% of Facebook’s revenue and 84% of Twitter’s in 2014, and two-thirds of social media advertising spend is forecasted to go towards mobile ads in 2018, creating a $9.1 billion market on mobile. [101]. This highlights how big an industry social media advertising is and the amount of revenue that can be produced on popular social media sites such as facebook.

These days, customers are trusting the advertising that is shared through social media and this is one of the main reasons why powerful social media users are being paid to advertise businesses on their social media platforms [102]. Seopremiers explains the benefits that viral social media users can get as they get “sent out samples, write reviews, pose for photographic collaborations, are provided free return airfare and luxury hotel stays, get invited to exclusive parties and events, and partner with brands for exciting giveaways and competitions.” [103]. The mirror explains this further by stating that: “Instagrammers with more than 1,000 followers could earn £40 or more a post, according to the app Takumi, while bigger users could make up to £2,000.” [104]. This depicts that Instagram is actually providing jobs and a stable income for “Instagram famous” users.

Zoella, a Vlogger and Global Beauty Entrepreneur is making millions through her social media platforms. Zoe Elizabeth Sugg is an English fashion and beauty vlogger, and is best known for her Youtube channel 'Zoella'. She currently has 11,638,935 subscribers on Youtube and has had 938,027,686 views since she joined 2 Feb 2007. [105]

Tammy Hembrow, is an Instagram famous woman who lives in Australia. She currently has over 5.7m Instagram followers and receives hundreds of thousands of likes on each post. Because of the fame she has gained from her Instagram account she has managed to manufacture a successful fitness company, as one of the things she is most famous for is her figure. According to seopremier she earns an outstanding $2000 AUD, minimum, per picture she posts advertising a brand. [106]. The image to the right shows Tammy Hembrow using social media advertising. She is modelling a dress and has tagged the clothing company in the post in order to further promote the brand. Tammy received over 300,000 likes on the post, highlighting the high level of publicity she has given to the business.

However social media users can often feel overwhelmed and bombarded by the amount of online advertising and on the networks. Most platforms have the ability to disable certain adverts so users are feeling the need to do this to stop themselves being swamped by social media marketing [107].

Social Media MarketingEdit

In the present day society social media is a big part of our everyday lives. Companies and business are taking in upon themselves to use social media to expand their businesses and maximise their profits. An article posted by business insider in 2016 depicts the gross amount of revenue generated by social media advertising- “Social ad revenue in the U.S. will surpass $30 billion by 2021, according to new estimates from BI Intelligence, Business Insider's premium research service, based on historical data from IAB, PwC, and IHS. This figure is up from an estimated $15.5 billion in social ad revenue in 2016 and represents a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15%.” The explanation given for the extreme income produced by social media is down to how often people are on their phones, and on social media sites. [108]. Companies are using social media marketing as a platform to directly showcase their products to consumers and investors, whilst using social media the company has the opportunity to go “viral” and attract lots of new customers. [109]. There is a good opportunity to make a mass amount of revenue from social media marketing particularly on platforms such as Instagram.


Cisco states that “Alvin Toffler defined the prosumer as someone who blurs the distinction between a “consumer” and a “producer.” The term has since come to mean a variety of things, but here we define it as someone who makes little distinction between his or her home and work lives. The prosumer engages in activities belonging to either sphere, regardless of time or location.” [110]. Forbes Magazine tries to define the term further. They state: “The term “prosumer” has transformed from meaning “professional consumer” to meaning “product and brand advocate.” Rather than simply “consuming” products, people are becoming the voices of those products and significantly impacting the success or failure of companies, products, and brands, particularly through their involvement on the social web.” [111]. In the present digital age consumers have the power in how a company is perceived online. People have the ability to promote a business through platforms such as social media sites and blogs. People can gain a high amount of followers on these sites and have the ability to change their follower’s opinions on a business. Businesses have to take a precise approach to prosumers. They have to seek for and approach prosumers that could best promote their brand. Often prosumers will be sent free samples in return for promoting the businesses brand online. The businesses have to keep a firm relationship with the prosumers in order to gain the best promotion for their business [112].

Surveillance on Social MediaEdit


Surveillance is generally described as the mass collection and processing of data personal data, often justified as being for the safety of the Public. Traditionally, surveillance is often carried out by large government organisations in the interests of security, although increasingly private organisations are exploiting personal information that can be gathered online for corporate interests.[113]

Online surveillance is relatively new concept, that has developed significantly over the early 21st century. With the advent of the internet social media platforms, Government agencies, and indeed private organisations now have personal information that is easily accessible and easy to exploit. Due to the architecture of the internet, data is shunted through multiple servers and machines when being sent from one location to another. This involves copying the data many times over, resulting in data trails. These data trails, coupled with the rise of social media mean personal information can be easily gathered and traced.

Online surveillance is a great example of an ‘industry’ that has been made possible by digital labour, specifically the automation of data collection and complex algorithms used to sort through any relevant information that can be exploited. In contrast to traditional surveillance techniques, online surveillance is completely invisible, and requires far less effort and infrastructure such as camera’s and microphones, due to its computerised nature.


Concerns of surveillance were recently renewed after Edward Snowden shed light on the clandestine gathering of personal information from both telephone logs and website data by the American National Security Agency (NSA).

One of the revelations to come from this scandal was the discovery of an online surveillance program known as PRISM that had access to nine large internet firms including Facebook and Google, that was operated by the NSA.[114] The leaked documents contained slides form a presentation given by the NSA detailing information on how PRISM operated, as well as implicating other intelligence agencies such as the GCHQ, the British equivalent to the NSA. PRISM allowed agencies such as the GCHQ to avoid the normal legal process in gaining personal information such as photographs and emails.[115]

Third-party Surveillance On Social MediaEdit

Challenging the traditional understanding of surveillance, many private companies now exploit personal data for financial gain.

One of the ways private organisations can track their users is through the use of Tracking cookies. These small data packets are often used by websites to save personal preferences when using said site, but they can also be exploited to monitor internet browsing habits. [116] Many cookies are now also accessed by websites for targeted personal advertising.

Facebook was also revealed to monitor their users browsing habits, even when those users were currently logged off of their accounts. Tracking cookies that were used by Facebook were still stored on their users' devices when they logged off, and thus were still active. This allowed Facebook to continue to monitor their users' activities regardless of whether they were currently on the site.[117]

Much of this surveillance is beginning to concern the public, much like PRISM and government surveillance had a surge of public awareness. Documents containing large amounts of personal information and tracking data have been recently revealed after being released through due to European data protection laws. Facebook was revealed to have stored up to 880 pages of personal information on a single user. [118]

Facebook BeaconEdit

Implemented in November 6th, 2007, Facebook Beacon was a program that recorded information on its users and sent them to third party companies for advertising purposes. Third part companies who were members of Facebook Beacon, known as ‘Affiliates’, recorded information carried out on their site such as buying a product or rating a video, and then sent this information to Facebook. Through embedded code on the webpage, Beacon also posted on the users Facebook page information on the actions carried out on the site. The users were given a 10-second popup in which to decline the information being posted on their profile, but any data collected was still sent to Facebook which the user had no control over. [119]

Controversially, Facebook Beacon was automatically enabled for users, who had to turn it off manually if they did not want to participate in the service. Furthermore, ‘Friends’ of users who had disabled Beacon still had their information recorded if their Facebook ‘Friends’ still had the feature enabled, meaning information was being wrongly recoded and sent to Facebook without their consent. The opt-out process was also critiqued for being overly complex.[120]

Although Facebook Beacon was a commercial program, as opposed to a government security measure, it ties in well with the concepts of Digital Labour and Online Surveillance. Facebook Beacon also highlights the many ethical issues brought on by the gathering of personal data online.

Always On CultureEdit

With instant communication available between all users of mobile phones, modern society has become reliant on mobile technology. ‘Always on Culture’ describes the blurred lines between users, and their ‘online selves’, as people become more connected to their online identities. [121] The constant connectivity Always on culture shouldn’t be confused with phone addiction.

Related heavily to Always On Culture, Web 2.0 describes the ways in which the interactions through the internet have developed and changed. The internet is now far more collaborative, and based around sharing rather than simply consuming. [122]. This could be witnessed in early websites like Napster and Bit-torrent, which focused on sharing files between users. This developed in Social Media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, which focus on the sharing of thoughts and opinions. The interactions described by Web 2.0, in addition to the ubiquity of mobile devices and internet connectivity, have enabled Always On Culture.

Always on culture essentially enables the widespread surveillance on the internet we see today, by having users always connected to a device which stores their location data, web browsing habits, and logs of who they spoken too. The revelation that Facebook tracks its users, regardless of whether they are online, mirrors Always On Culture.[123] Facebook users, and indeed Internet users in general, are intrinsically linked to their accounts and online identities, even when not actively connected. This means that their activities are also available to be exploited through surveillance at any time.



Capitalism refers to an economic system based on the private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit.

Critical Theory

Critical theory refers to the critique of society and culture through the application of knowledge of the Social sciences and humanities.


A means of raising a large sum of money through small contributions from a large amount of people, typically through the internet.

Cyber Bulling

Refers to a way that users online emotional torment another user through any means of social media.

Dialectical Reasoning

A philosophical method for understanding the world which focuses on identifying contradictions. Dialectics argues that society is shaped by contradictions (eg. being and nothingness, life and death).

Digital Labour

The term used to describe how corporate Internet platforms exploit user activity for profit.

Frankfurt school

The term used to describe a group of neo-Marxist theoreticians, and their respective theories, brought together at the Institute for Social Research under the direction of Max Horkheimer.

Social Media

The collective of online communication channels dedicated to community-based input, interaction, content-sharing and collaboration


The process of international integration arising from the interchange of world views, products, ideas, and other aspects of culture.

Information Ecology

This is the connection between ecological ideas with the dynamics and properties of the increasingly dense, complex and important digital informational environment and has been gaining acceptance in a growing number of disciplines.

Instant Messaging

a type of online chat that offers real-time text transmission over the Internet.

Information Explosion

Is the rapid increase of the amount of published data and as the amount of information published grows, can lead to difficulties managing the data and lead to an information overload.

Information Overload

The exposure of too much information or data at one time.


Stands for Information and Communications Technologies. It is an extended term for information technologies that puts emphasis on the importance of unified communications and the integration of telecommunications.

Information Age

This is a time in history where there has been a shift from the traditional industry, characterised by the industrial revolution, to an economy that is based on the amount of information avaliable on technologies such as computers.

Network Effect

A network effect is the effect that one user of a good/service has on the value of that particular product to other people.

Old Media

The traditional means of communication that existed before the creation of new mediums such as the internet.


The technology of using radio waves to carry information, such as sound, by systematically modulating properties of electromagnetic energy waves transmitted through space.


The observation, and mass process of personal data. Although traditionally understood as being undertook by governments, private organistions are starting to proccess personal data on an industrial scale.


The long-distance transmission of textual or symbolic messages without the physical exchange of an object bearing the message.


A telecommunications device that permits two or more users to conduct a conversation when they are too far apart to be heard directly.

Tracking Cookie

These are small packets of data which are stored on users computer by websites they have visited. They are often exploited by Third Party’s for targeted advertising. They can be used to monitor internet browsing habits.

Web 2.0

How interactions on the internet have developed, resulting in more user created content and collaboration. Linked in part to the rise of Social Media.


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