Perspectives in Digital Culture/Digital Labour and Social Media

Digital Labour and Social Media




This chapter discusses what is meant by Digital Labour and Social Media, while exploring the different theories and examples surrounding these topics.

Digital Labour is the creation of content and information online, for example, Wikipedia and blogs, which are done for fun but also constitute a form of work - "play labour." This is usually unpaid, but through targeted advertising on the content, people or organisations can make money through their digital labour. Theories from Christian Fuchs and Karl Marx on work and labour are explored within this topic later on in this chapter. [1]

Digital work is the organisation of human experiences with the help of the human brain, digital media and speech in such a way that new products are created. Digital labour is the valorisation dimension of digital work; a continuation of the traditional workplace into the digital sphere. According to Mies, "Digital labour on social media” resembles housework, because it has no wages, is mainly conducted during spare time, has no trade union representation, and is difficult to perceive as being labour. Like housework it involves the “externalization, or ex-territorialization of costs which otherwise would have to be covered by the capitalists.”[2] Like housework, digital labour is a source of unchecked, unlimited exploitation.[3]


Social Media are platforms such as websites or "apps" that allow users to share content of their choice with other users or "friends" through online social networking. The most popular social media platforms are websites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube etc. Social media has recently become a near-crucial part of social interactions within society. When you meet someone new, one of the first things you do is add them as a "friend" on Facebook, and it can be detrimental to your real-life social interactions if you're not part of their Facebook circle, or if you don't follow them on some other form of social media account or platform in order to keep in contact with them and up-to-date on their activities.

Fuchs quoted the American writer, Clay Shirky, who noted that social media and software are tools that 'increase our ability to share, to co-operate, with one another, and to take collective action, all outside the framework of traditional institutions and organisations'.[4]

In relation to Social Media, this chapter explores how social media came to be, the different types of social media and the effects it can have on the world in terms of the 'Always-On culture' and surveillance through digital footprints.

Concepts of Labour


A labour theory is useful from an anthropological and historical point of view. That theory allows us to find differences between work and labour. The first mention of labour can be found in the works of Aristotle, who considered that labour is divided into two forms: ‘the creation of works from nature’ and self-determined action’. In Christianity, work is perceived as a virtue, according to Paul's ethic of labour: ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat’. In the eighteenth and nineteenth century philosophers such as Hegel described work in the context of an estate-based society, in which peasants, citizens and civil servants have different forms of work that are structured in the form of a hierarchy of recognition and a division of labour. Hegel also suggests that relationship between master and slave reminds a capitalist form. Hegel had an impact on some of the later works of Karl Marx who considered that: ‘Labour is a natural condition of human existence, a condition of material interchange between man and nature, quite independent of the form of society.’ Marx explains that the economy is involved in all societies' processes of production, distribution and consumption and that work is an activity embedded into this system.

According to Karl Marx the relations of production are dialectically connected to the system of productive forces. Human subjects have labour power within a labour process that interacts with the means of production. The means of production consists of the object of labour and the instruments of labour (technology). In the labour process, humans transform the object of labour by making use of their labour power in tandem with the instruments of labour. The result is a product of labour, which is, as Marx says, a product in which labour has become bound up in its object. Labour is objectified in the product and the object is, as a result, transformed into a use value that serves human needs.[5]

Farooq and Ofosu (1992) [6] suggest that anyone between the age of 5 and 75 is categorised as the 'potential labour supply.' They also suggest that most countries today see child labour (those under the age of 15) as unacceptable, and that this age group should be kept in education in order to provide better long term advantages. In this book it is also suggested that the elderly section of the population (over 50 or 60) often retire from the labour force. Today, this age for retirement may be slightly different due to improved health care and evidently, people living longer. This leaves part of the population as dependent, as they rely on others to provide for them. Those in between (aged 16-65) are known as the 'working population,' as they are capable of working and providing for themselves.

According to Raymond Williams, the word 'labour' appeared in the English language at the beginning of the XIV century. At that time feudalism was the main system in Europe which was based on hard work of the peasants.[7] The word was associated with hard work, pain and trouble. The word 'work' means in Old English 'doing something'[8]

Shift in Traditional Labour


As new technology has developed over the years, inevitably new opportunities for work have emerged. Social media is a wealthy and evolving industry that is responsible for the discovery of thousands of new jobs including app developers, bloggers, digital marketers, software engineers and web designers: all of which did not exist 20 years ago. By 2011, the number of jobs in social media had risen by 600%. [9] Further, social media has not only created jobs within its industry but it has also changed the 'traditional' structure and functions of typical businesses. Successful organisations around the world have adapted their internal structures and created new departments, positions and salaries in order to keep up with the social media phenomenon. For example, an organisation trying to establish a strong online presence will employ specialists to manage their social media accounts and focus on communicating appropriately with their online audiences. Communication has been 'revolutionised' by social media and has given organisations a new channel to interact with customers and monitor their activity and preferences.

Communication patterns continuously change, for example, in the 1940's people were communicating through newspapers, it then moved on to radio and television, and now digital communication is becoming more popular. According to Scholz, these new web-based opportunities are often exploiting worker protection schemes, with "no minimum wage or health insurance."[10] This could be due to the web being so broad that it is hard to keep track of who is working where. Online practices have “crossed established boundaries and opened up new frontiers in between areas that seemed previously securely separated”, allowing labour and work to be able to be done socially and online through different media platforms.[11] As digital work can often be done in the home, it is not as easy for authorities to keep track of companies who employ people to work from home. This could make it easier for employers to exploit workers if there is not a clear line drawn between "work" and "play."[12]

This problem has come about because of a cultural shift from traditional forms of media to digitalisation. A lot of people's lives today almost revolve around digital technology, as Fuchs[13] suggests that wherever we are, it is likely there will be a computer, laptop, mobile phone or printer close by. This is important to consider when thinking about labour patterns today, compared to 30 years ago. How often do we use one of these pieces of technology in our current workplace?

Digital Marketing


Continuous developments in technology has caused marketing to change drastically along the way. Chaffey and Smith (2008) have defined digital marketing as the process of applying digital technologies such as social networks, emails, databases, blogs, mobiles and other recent innovations to marketing activities. Their aim is to achieve profitable gains and retention of customers through focus on the strategic significance of digital technologies and in turn enhance customer knowledge by concentrating on their digital footprint, their profiles, behaviour, and interests as well as creating online advertising services that correspond with their individual needs.

Chaffey and Smith (2008) have also articulated digital marketing as approaching customers and understanding them better, increasing the value of their products, expanding distribution channels and boosting sales through running e-marketing campaigns using digital media channels such as search marketing, online advertising and affiliate marketing. Online marketing does almost everything traditional marketing does, except it is cheaper, more effective and reaches a much bigger market. The internet allowed manufacturers to connect with customers without any constraints. Both Ryan and Jones (2011) and Brennan and Schafer (2010) said that it is much easier to advertise now that you can reach anyone, anytime, anywhere. Day and Bens (2005) stated that it also gave an opportunity for small regional companies to access bigger markets and compete internationally. This is the reason to learn digital marketing course of every businessman.

The growth of the digital market has allowed consumers to have more convenient shopping experiences. The internet exposes customers to various markets instantly and allows them to seek out specific products to find exactly what they are looking for. In addition, development in technology means that companies can now store information or 'cookies' about each customer in order to understand them more thoroughly. The growth of marketing through digital platforms has placed consumers in a more powerful position than ever as these platforms allow for audience interaction in a way that was not possible with traditional marketing. Instant customer feedback is highly influential and plays an important role in the success or failure of digital markets. The competitiveness of online businesses forces companies to ensure customer satisfaction for success. Marketers have to define their targeted audience, persuade them into buying their product and deliver satisfying results in order for their customers to regard, rate and share their products.

There are many different alleys marketer can utilise digital marketing in promoting their product and services, some of the are Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), Search Engine Marketing (SEM), Social Media Marketing (SMM), Pay-per-click (PPC), and Email Marketing. Each of these channels offers unique opportunities for reaching and engaging with target audiences, each with its own set of advantages and strategies.

Free Labour


There is a major concern with the notion of free labour, specifically the theory that social media consumers are in a sense "working", since their ideas and time spent on social media outlets like Facebook contribute to the financial gains and profits of that company but not to themselves. This is due to media convergence, as "work" could range from sitting behind a desk in an office, to sitting at home on social media promoting the company. It has been suggested that this amounts to exploiting free labour, with accusations that Facebook merely profits from the "work" of its users. Social media is not the only form of free labour, there are other websites that are open source software such as Wikipedia were people will contribute on this websites just on the bases of pleasures and could be the rewards of co-operating with other people instead of it been a competition[14]. This is important in determining exactly what the definition of "labour" is and the differences and similarities to "work" and exactly which types of workers should be compensated for their work. This has wider implications in relation to what work is valued in the current system.

Richard Barbrook sees the internet as a "high-tech gift economy" independent of monetary based capitalism and describes it as "a really existing form of anarcho-communism". He is concerned with the attempts of others to privatize or commodify the commons. He furthers the idea of the digital economy as distinct from capitalism by noting that digital labour "has not developed simply as an answer to the economic needs of the capital", implying the labour has value in of itself without the need for financial incentives. The article argues that the Net is a form of "late-capitalism".[15] Mark Andrejevic critiques the view that being able to provide feedback "which saves producers from having to undertake expensive market research" is a form of "democratization(sic) and shared control" and instead argues that consumers are selling their time.

According to Hesmondhalgh (2010), the relation between production and consumption is very complex. He also suggests that Free Labour may have two different meanings- one being unpaid work and the other being that labour cannot be controlled. This then complicates the line between what should be paid and what is acceptable as free labour. If we cannot control the extent to which labour continues in our lives, then it is hard to decide whether people should be paid or unpaid for the things they do. For example, stay at home parents are not paid to bring up their children, which is free labour, deemed acceptable but on the other hand unpaid digital labour may be seen as unacceptable to some. This shows that the distinction between what should and should not be paid labour may not be clear but it is very important, as it is part of our everyday lives.[16]



It has been acknowledged that Facebook provides users with a service which amounts to a form of pay in of itself. David Hesmondhalgh argues that it is wrong to pair free labour with 'exploitation' and takes particular issue with the implicit comparisons made between viewers of reality TV and sweatshops - to give an extreme example. He argues that the conditions for those "workers" are much better than in traditional manual labour since it provides "self-management" and flexible hours with far better working conditions than even the programmers at Silicon Valley. He argues that the problem arises from dispute over the definition of labour and sees many definitions proposed as having limitations or being too broad. To give an example of the former, he agrees with Marxists that it is too narrow to claim that labour is only that which is paid since, "the great deal of labour that goes into sustaining and enhancing life in modern societies is unpaid." But in reference to the latter he argues that labour must involve the "exertion of the body or mind." As examples he refers to domestic labour and internships. He quotes Smythe, who said that "all non-sleeping time under capitalism is work time". While believing that it is too broad a definition, he seems to suggest that it is actually an excellent critique of capitalism as a system which arbitrarily decides which types of work are worthy of pay.[17]

Digital Labour and Youtube

YouTube logo

Fuchs and Sevignani[18] describe the basic debate around digital labour as, “the exploitation of users’ unpaid labour, who engage in the creation of content and the use of blogs, social networking sites[…]and in these activities create value that is at the heart of profit generation”

Burgess and Green stated that "YouTube is a site of participatory culture."[19] Users are free to participate in the large online community that YouTube has created. It offers people the chance to air their views on a popular and easily accessible platform, spreading their ideas and opinions on everything from beauty to gaming. May 2007 saw the beginning of the YouTube partnership programme which allowed popular content creators to make money for the videos they produced, providing they abide by YouTube’s terms of service. In order to make income, users must create original content on a regular basis. For those involved in the partnership program, YouTube would place advertisements next to their videos which was what allowed them to make money from it. It was not until August 2007 when YouTube placed in video advertisements in order to sustain the website. YouTube continues to pay creators of original content, however, this feature is now available to a wider range of individuals. Rather than being approached by Youtube’s team, creators are able to apply for funding which may encourage creators to engage more with the website despite not having the largest number of subscribers. It would appear that, digital labour performed on YouTube disagrees with the debate Fuchs and Sevignani mention. Not only because YouTube pays their main contributors but because there does not seem to be a sense of exploration involved. YouTube is reliant on its content creators to uphold their online presence and as such is keen to provide their creators with incentives to continue uploading content on a regular basis; whilst the creators rely on YouTube to provide them with a platform to display their creative work and, in some cases, rely on YouTube for their income. Individual popularity gained from YouTube can also lead to creators being approached by other companies with opportunities for further work in their area of interest.

YouTube seems to provide a lot of support for its content creators and encourages more users to become involved in making money from their videos. Their Creator Hub provides information about working in collaborations as well as advice for users to improve their channel. In 2014, Franchesca Ramsey, who makes videos under the channel name chescaleigh, uploaded a video discussing how she makes her income from YouTube. She explains that although it not her only source of income, YouTube does cover the majority of her income. In her video, she also states that the use of ad blocker by consumers prevents those individual views from accounting to the total on each video which is how the creator’s total pay is calculated. This suggests that the use of ad blocker, if prevalent enough, could affect how much money a content creator receives. This creates questions about the future of Youtube and the future of the majority of popular social media platforms. Whilst advertising allows users to access the platform for free, the rise in people using ad blocking software, it stresses that many people do not like advertisements. However, the majority of users would refuse to continue using their current social media accounts if they were made to pay to access them when it was once free. This leaves social media leaders with a difficult situation regarding the future of these platforms. How can they continue to provide a free service without the use of advertising, or, is advertising here to stay?

Advertising on YouTube mainly takes the form of Pay-Per-View and Pay-Per-Click advertising. Both have specific implications on profit for both YouTube and the video it is connected to. Pay per view advertising on YouTube means a viewer will see an advertisement beside the video depending on the views geographical location, likes or dislikes. For example, when watching a video relating to health and beauty, a viewer will probably see an advert which relates to same topic. YouTube then receives money for each profile the advert is viewed on. Users receive, on average, $1 USD per 1000 views on their videos.

This model of payment has been criticised due to the fact that a ten minute long video of a black screen with no audio can be used to generate income provided the video is viewed. This can be taken advantage of by either 'farming' views, spamming the link to various other social media sites, or by giving the video a misleading title and thumbnail in order to attract views. An offshoot of this practice is 'Rickrolling', a now mostly eradicated form of trolling which would see users lured to videos by fake thumbnails and titles, only to be greeted by Rick Astley's song 'Never Gonna Give You Up'. Although the video itself could not be monetized due to copyright, channels could still be met with increased traffic that may result in the uploader making money from simply trolling users.

Therefore, in the past, it could be argued that YouTube stands apart from other social media sites as it offers monetary compensation to content creators through ad revenue. However, the recent ‘demonetisation’ controversy that was aptly labelled the ‘adpocalypse’ produced economic injury for a lot of YouTube creators (Kain, 2017). YouTube now has an algorithm that flags and demonetises videos that have inappropriate content such as, racist language. Demonetised videos do not receive advertising revenue. The algorithm was not a problem for content creators until 2016. In 2016, advertisers started to pull their ads from YouTube because of an expose by the Wall Street Journal that claimed advertisements were being used on racist videos (Kain, 2017). YouTube lost millions in revenue and YouTube channels that deal with controversial subject matter such as video games and even historians, had their videos demonetised (Kain, 2017). There is evidence of YouTube demonetising the videos of its most popular YouTubers. For example, Philip DeFranco claimed his revenue fell by 80 per cent, while H3H3Productions claimed they were only making 15 percent of their usual revenue (Weiss, 2017). Interestingly, the only videos that did not get demonetised were haul videos and makeup tutorials because they are advertiser-friendly, and they contain advertising in the video. The casualties of demonetisation were worse for smaller channels who rely on revenue from advertising to sustain their channels. The ‘adpocalypse’ affected news and social issue creators such as, Real Women Stories (RWS) which is a small YouTube channel that produces videos about women’s rights. RWS gives a voice to women who have been sexually abused. Therefore, they were demonetised because they deal with sensitive issues. The RWS is a charity that relies on advertising revenue, in the past, they would make $2,000 in advertising revenue, but now they only make $10 a month (Patel, 2017). By cutting their revenue and giving them no option to appeal, YouTube is leaving no room for creative and important content and only supporting channels which are already prospering.

Vlogging, Youtubers and Digital Labour

Zoe Sugg, famous YouTuber known as Zoella. Photo by Gage Skidmore

Vlogging, a word that comes from the combination of video and blogging, has become a whole new form of entertainment in the last 10 years. Vlogging is the act where a content creator films clips, of their everyday life, of them talking or them doing other activities, and upload it to YouTube. These videos are not funny cat videos, film trailers or One Direction’s new music video. These videos are made for their subscribers. The development in social media has opened up an opportunity to create a whole new relationship between producers and consumers, and vloggers are using these developments to their full potentials and are quickly becoming some of the most influential celebrities out there, with millions of subscribers tuning in to hear what they have to say, or see what picture they have uploaded on Instagram.

Under the term vlogging, there are many different types of vlogs. There are the more common known vlogging styles such a beauty videos, or gaming videos. But one type of vlogging that shows a new level of digital labour is daily vlogging. A daily vlogger has committed to the task of recording their lives everyday, and uploading it to YouTube for the whole world to see. This is a revolutionary type of entertainment because the person in question does all the production, editing and uploading of the videos. So the road between production and uploading is a lot shorter. Also the relationship between the consumer and producer is much more of a close connection and built on community. Many vloggers will ask questions in their videos or ask for an opinion from their viewers who can respond via the comments section. This can be anything from asking what their viewers did that day or asking for suggestions for a new eyeliner, and is an easy way to make viewers feel more involved in the whole process. Some argue that due to vloggers ability to choose what they show in their videos, that they give out a very selected display and thus are giving out false images of their lives. However, instead of seeing it like that, most people view this new form of entertainment as refreshing and very personal, as most vloggers share their flaws, worries, and everyday lives. This personal relationship, and friendships, that viewers form with the people on these channels are much due to the realness and the authenticity that is possible through social mediums such as Twitter. Elizabeth Ellcessor comments on the importance of a celebrities authenticity by saying “Illusions of liveness and interactivity in online media are crucial to experiencing online celebrity as uncontrolled, ongoing, immediate, and ‘real’. ”[20]

YouTube personalities Dan And Phil now have a show on BBC Radio 1

These vloggers do not only put down time on their videos, but they have realized the importance of being accessible on other social media sites in order to strengthen their YouTube channel and keep that genuine connection with their audience. So along side being a vlogger, they have very strong presences on Twitter and Instagram, sites were they do a lot of free digital labour in order to craft a strong and loyal following that will help them make money off of their YouTube videos. This media convergence has also spread so far as some of the most popular YouTubers have written books, been featured on television, gotten radio shows or created their own makeup line.

Youtube and the Let's Play


A Let's Play is a video that documents a playthrough of a video game, accompanied by commentary from the gamer[21]. A Let's Play is different to a walkthrough or guide as it focuses on one player's experience alongside subjective, and often humorous or critical, commentary rather than aiming to be objective or informative.

Let's Play videos uploaded to YouTube are able to monetized so that the players earn a share of ad revenue from the video hosting site – in this instance, YouTube. Felix Kjellberg, known on YouTube as PewDiePie, had seen his Let's Play videos help him achieve over 35 million subscribers on YouTube[22]. In 2013, PewDiePie made over $4 million.[23]

Let's Play videos have been considered a good way to market video games, particularly by smaller or independent developers. Developers of the video game Octodad: Dadliest Catch designed their game with the aim of having it appear is Let's Play videos: "We started designing Deadliest Catch to encourage [Let's Play videos] and create a lot of room where there are a lot of different options for a player to create their own comedy and put their own personality into that."[24] Developers of The Stanley Parable, speaking on Let's Play creators, said: “Those guys and girls have enormous reach. When one of those people really likes it, two or three hundred thousand people were just told that this game is really fantastic.”[25]

The copyright nature of Let's Play videos remains in question. Nintendo has created an affiliate program which allows them to share in the profits of Let's Play videos.[26] Ubisoft, however, has stated that its games are allowed to be used in Let's Play videos and allow for those making them to monetize the videos as long as they stay within certain content-appropriateness-guidelines.[27]

Ideological Perspectives on Digital Labour


Regarding digital labour, there are many perspectives and viewpoints from various people debating whether or not it has caused positive or negative issues overall. There is a strong and unavoidable link between social ideology and the advances of technology. Eran Fisher[28] states “capitalism relies on ideology for its reproduction” and that technological discourse is the key to this capitalist ideology due to technology being so closely intertwined with society, and the shift towards labour being done digitally affects both. He argues that digital labour creates a more sociable working atmosphere as people have more freedom to be creative and unique with their work, however, there is still the issue of inequality and exploitation. For example, those who have power and influence 'offline', such as actors, celebrities and corporations, will have more 'likes, 'retweets' and followers than the average social media user, meaning they can reinforce ideological belief through the power they wield. This, "reflects see the inequalities of power in society,"[29] online.

Jenkins, Ford and Green argue that audience labour cannot be only described and viewed as exploitation and that this type of labour can sometimes be done by their own personal drive and the desire to succeed in terms other than just financially. They do, however, disregard the argument that “profit orientation is inherent in capitalism” and that audience labour is mostly about their own desire, motivation, accomplishments and how engaged they are. Jenkins firmly believes that it is acceptable for users to be exploited as long as they receive praise and compliments from other users and argues that the fundamental idea behind what is classified as ‘work’ is changing and that “if users like it, then it is no problem”. However, the desire to do this work does not disregard or excuse the fact that they are still being exploited and it still exists whether or not the people feel like they are being manipulated and taken advantage of, regardless if they are willing to do the work or not. This is summarised perfectly by Fuchs: “User labour is objectively exploited and, to a certain degree, at the same time enjoyed by the users[30]. Fuchs also quotes Miles,[31] who suggests that unpaid labour should simply enhance living conditions over anything else. This argues against the understanding of unpaid, exploitative labour being acceptable simply because people enjoy what they are doing.

Technology “occupies a central role in the distribution of power”, which can be seen as a very negative side effect of digital labour, as the shift of control can be constructed through different users. Castells concurs: “Technology is society, and society cannot be understood and represented without its technological tools”, suggesting that digital media can be viewed as a force of production established by society.[32]

Marxist Theory on Digital Labour


With the global financial crisis, which began in earnest in 2008, many began to speak of a “crisis of capitalism”. This has led to a resurgence in Marxist thought, both in academia, where Marx has always featured fairly prominently, but also in popular culture, with Time magazine famously featuring Karl Marx on a February 2009 front cover - accompanied by the headline “What would Marx think?”[33] The resurgence of Marxism, in tandem with the rise in mass communications and the establishment of the digital age, has enabled theorists to adapt Marxist thought to new concepts, such as Digital Labour.

Marx’s theories on work and labour were summed up by Fuchs[34] as being three-fold:

1. Work and Labour in Society - “in all societies, it is an activity that produces goods that satisfy human needs.” In Marx’s own words, labour is “a natural condition of human existence, a material interchange between man and nature.” In Marx’s ideal world - a communist one - he is ambiguous about whether or not this kind of activity would even constitute work or labour, or if would be more like what he called “self-activity”.

2.Labour in Capitalism and Other Class societies - this is a system of labour designed to benefit a dominant class, in that what labour and surplus labour (“labour that goes beyond the time necessary for satisfying basic human needs”) produce are taken for their own gain, while this class “exploits the producers of surplus.” The wealth created by labour belongs to the dominant class - as Fuchs puts it, the “wealth of capital” corresponds to the “poverty of labour.” Marx believes this is a system of alienation.

3. Work in Communism - due to the means of production being collectively owned, the concept of “labour” disappears, as does the possibility of alienation. Marx posits that workers would no longer suffer surplus labour time, freeing them up to pursue other interests - “the free development of individualities”.

In 1977, the academic Dallas Smythe[35] criticised Marxist academia for ignoring “the complex role of communications in capitalism”. He cited “audience commodification” and “audience labour” as an example of what communications as an industry has wrought. “Commodification”, in digital terms, can be described as the reduction of people to consumers of targeted advertising, such as on Google, where your “clicks” are stored and used to sell more products to you later, making you a commodity to them,[36] while “labour” is also an appropriate term in this context, because when you are, for example, selecting your preferences on Amazon, you are essentially doing the work of their marketing department for them.

Fuchs notes that Marx believed human beings were naturally social creatures who needed communication in order to survive. However, Fuchs does not class social media as providing communication facilities that are necessary to human survival. People who use social media are both consumers of these platforms, but also producers of “data, commodities, value and profit.” Thus, all time spent consuming products like Facebook is also time spent producing value for them. Fuchs uses the analogy of a can of coca-cola - buying the product gives profit to Coca-Cola, but not drinking it. Using Facebook is like giving Coca-Cola more profit for every sip. Thus, it can be argued that all time spent on social media is, in Marxist terms, a form of Digital Labour.

However, in the digital age the argument can go even further. Internet users are very often active “creators of content”, whether that is blogs or videos or comments on a website. Even if not, all internet users leave a digital footprint, of uploaded data, social media networks, demographic data and general online behaviour. All of it can be sold to advertisers as a commodity - leading Fuchs to coin the term “Internet prosumer commodification.” It’s conceivable, then, from a Marxist perspective, that everything we do online can be described as Digital Labour.

Marxism holds that capitalism is maintained through the imposition of a dominant ideology. In the case of digital media, Fuchs describes ideology as taking two forms:

1.“The presentation of social media as a form of participatory culture and new democracy.”

2.“The hidden appearance of exploitation as play.”

Neubauer calls the ideology behind digital media “a specific ideology of informational neo-liberalism.”[37] The openness and freedom of the Internet creates an online society with an ideology almost like that of the American Dream - it's a place where anyone can be a producer of content, and where everyone can have a voice. But such an unregulated, profit-oriented system also sees increasing exploitation, such as in the huge rise in extreme internet pornography - considered by many to be just “play”.

If digital media is simply another capitalistic construct, then Digital Labour - everything from the videos you put on Youtube down to the things you search on Amazon - is no different to Marx’s second definition of Labour in Capitalism. In these terms, we are facilitating our own exploitation, for the benefit of the dominant class, same as it ever was. Fuchs certainly doesn’t believe that Digital Labour within social media is providing anything we fundamentally need to survive. But perhaps Digital Labour does provide products that satisfy human needs, like the desire for interaction, or curiosity. Seeing as much of Digital Labour is done voluntarily, it can perhaps be constituted as a “self-activity” - or even “the free development of individualities.”

Have the avenues opened up by the explosion of information in the Digital Age led to a form of Labour in Capitalism that does not produce alienation?

Critiques of Marx on Digital Labour


Hesmondhalgh [38] counters the Marxist claim that all Labour in Capitalism is exploited, by describing “Labour” in the Digital realm as the kind of cultural work that has often throughout history been unpaid. This is due to the willingness and enthusiasm of the people carrying out this kind of cultural work. Hesmondhalgh cites non-digital examples of this as including learning a musical instrument, or playing sport. He argues, “if contacting Facebook friends and uploading photos onto Facebook represents some kind of exploited labour,” then “all amateur football coaches should be paid for their donation of free time.” Hesmondhalgh states that this is not, therefore, a “priority” - and that this sort of attitude might “commodify forms of activity that we would ultimately prefer to leave outside the market.”

The problem, from a Marxist perspective, is that while an amateur football coach can be legitimately said to be helping people and not the corporate class, someone providing football tips on Facebook might help others, but will also be helping raise the value of the Facebook corporation. Also, a Marxist view would argue that Facebook users are already commodified; already inside the market, even if they don’t appreciate it themselves. Fuchs[39] states that Hesmondhalgh fails to distinguish between two types of hobby activities:

1.Ones where a person’s labour is used, but not to produce anything of monetary value, like playing football, or playing guitar at home.

2. Ones where a person’s labour is used but appropriated by capitalist companies, to no material benefit to themselves, like clicking ads on Google, or spending time on Facebook.

Quoting Wright, Fuchs explains that as a result of the second type of hobby activity, individuals are denied material benefits despite accumulating the profit, and that the individuals who created the content are excluded from media ownership.

Hesmondhalgh’s argument would perhaps be that neither of these actually constitute any appreciable detriment for the individual involved. In using their free time to pursue whatever they see fit, they are fulfilling their individual wants and needs with no impediment.

John Hartley[40] agrees with Hesmondhalgh that Digital Media has had an overall positive and non-exploitative effect, and has actually democratized society on a scale never seen before, in the media, in the public sector, in Universities, and in terms of the political and social engagement of the citizenry. Hartley claims that the Internet is liberating and self-organising - “everyone is networked with everyone else.” He posits the idea of a new economic direction - “evolutionary economics” - where co-operation and co-creativity become the economy’s pillars. Fuchs responds that not everyone is connected - the most recent figures[41] show that only 37% of the world’s population have internet access. Rather than being democratizing, and allowing “everyone” to become a creator of content, does Digital Media, and even Digital Labour itself, actually exacerbate existing power inequalities in the world today?

Hartley concedes that this universal network of whose praises he sings is dominated by large corporations - but 2 billion people do have access to the internet, and the communicative tools that these new mediums offer the less advantaged who do have internet access enables them to level the playing field, and even eventually become part of the elite, in a meritocratic never before seen in a capitalist economy.

Cognitive Capitalism and Digital Labour


Cognitive capitalism, also known as “Cognitive-cultural economy”, is a theorised new kind of capitalism described by its proponents as a “great transformation” and “paradigm shift”[42] to previous forms of capitalism. The previous forms of capitalism are firstly, mercantile (i.e pre-industrial trading), and then more recently, industrial capitalism, but that this latter form has already, or will soon be, superseded by a “third capitalism” build around the “knowledge economy” brought about the Digital Age.[43] The argument goes that the explosion in digital technologies has opened what used to be defined as simply “Labour” to a wide variety of cultural and cognitive practices, which can all be described as work. Particularly with the advent of machinery taking over so many “traditional Labour” jobs, this kind of cognitive work is something our changing economy is increasingly reliant on.

Proponents of cognitive capitalism claim that “capitalistic development itself”[44] has shattered Marx’s theories of Labour and Value. They claim that the huge divergence in labour caused by the massive increase in cognitive and cultural practises-as-work - which never existed before the Internet - means that the concept of “Labour” as a unit simply no longer exists, and the economy has changed utterly at the hands of these “continuous information technologies.” Fuchs, taking on the Marxist view, disagrees, claiming cognitive capitalism as just another modern concept designed to show that “basic capitalist structures” have changed when, in fact, they have not. “They hardly account for the continued importance of, for example, very material resources like oil, over which wars are fought, or the importance of finance capital that has played a crucial role in the emergence of a new global economic crisis in 2008.”[45]

Social Media


Social media can be defined as an "on-line environment in which people create a self-descriptive profile and then make links to other people they know on the site, creating a network of personal connections....[T]heir network of connections is displayed as an integral piece of their self-presentation."[46]

Social Media are a platform for communication, expression and organisation. For many people it can now be used as a source of information, whether it is personal or to keep up to date with current news topics. Social media as a tool is now one of the most powerful influences in the modern world, with 757 million (556 million of those on Smartphones) users logging on to Facebook everyday for example.[47] Users can share the emotions, moments, photos, videos, stories, websites, locations and questions by the minute, and that's just Facebook. Social Media can be seen as a place to meet new friends, or rekindle old friendship, it is a point of contact for many people and can be used to reach out to institutions, brands and commonly celebrities. Social networking sites are not just for friends and families communicating together and as well as meeting strangers. What makes social networking sites unique is rather that users are able to be articulate and make it visible on their own social networking profiles. This can mean that people can have a connection with other individuals that would not otherwise be formed [48].

However, with the growth of social media, it has become more apparent that it can be used for negative purposes at an alarming rate. Social media brands like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram have vigorously ramped up their security measures and privacy settings as fraud, pedophilia, and cyber-bullying has become a serious issue over the years. Many groups or individuals can now hack profiles for personal gain; abuse or threaten users through racism, sectarianism or other hate crimes; and also groom younger users, all through various and collective social media sites. This has become an issue which is now taught through various educational institutions, employers and communities to keep individuals of all ages safe but wary of the dangers that are lurking through social media.

Social Media such as Facebook, YouTube,Twitter, Blogspot and LinkedIn co-operate with each other. They all use a business model that is based on targeted advertising that turns users’ data (content, profiles, social networks and online behaviour) into a commodity.[49]

Moreover, through these issues of Social media, reality T.V shows like Catfish have rose to popularity as a method of warning and educating people worldwide of how easy it can be to fall for fake profiles and to be careful who you trust online. Catfish illustrates the severity some people go to online, to pretend to be someone they are not, and the amount of people this can consequently affect. However, the 2010 documentary film it is based on was accused of being staged and exaggerating the consequences.

History of Social Media


Social Networking is not a new concept - It is simply a form of communication that has been around for thousands of years. Current popular social media sites today are the result of a developing social media trend[50] stretching back centuries.

Many hundreds of years ago, a popular method of communication was through local town criers who were tasked with making public announcements[51] and in 1792, long distance telegraphy became another form of communication.[52]

The end of the 1870's saw the first patent drawing of the telephone[53] marking the start of a new era in communication technologies, eventually allowing for faster communication between two people.

Social media's main concept is to share content with one another, this is not something that was invented through technology and hasn't been exclusively available since the rise from the 1990's and onward. Sharing content is something which can be seen as a human instinct, if we read a good story or see something entertaining our first trail of thought is to tell someone about it or put the information gathered to use, elsewhere.

Writing, for example, is an art which is thousands of years old and the hard copies have always been available to share, whether it is with a small group of people, or more recently to hundreds or more online. Social media now is something we interact with everyday and has been since the rise of desktop PC's, laptop's and smartphones. Before the 1990's social networking was more or less only hand written letters, however those with access to super computers, developed in the 1940's, could develop ways to create networks between those computers, and this would later lead to the birth of the Internet, this was exclusive to scientists and engineers at the time. As home computers got more common, media became more sophisticated. Blogging was the form of social media which made it really explode in popularity, LinkedIn and MySpace came to light and made it easier to share information for business and leisure use whilst in wasn't until 2005 when YouTube was launched where the methods of sharing media changed forever. The face of social media has now evolved in to where it is possible to put almost anything online, in terms of moments, videos, pictures etc and is easier than ever.

On the other hand, Social media has become a very dangerous place to be and users are encouraged to think about what they are posting online before doing so. Many sites have guidelines where posts must be kind, necessary, thoughtful and avoid controversy. With the rapid rise of social media, it quickly became apparent that in order to protect all social media users, new laws would have to be put in place which can prosecute users who involve themselves in abusive or dangerous activity.

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal services of the UK have set out guidelines as to what could break new Social media laws and face prosecution.

The guidelines state that communications should be considered for prosecution if they:

  • Specifically target an individual or group and are considered to be hate crime, domestic abuse, or stalking.
  • Constitute credible threats of violence to the person, damage to property or to incite public disorder.
  • May amount to a breach of a court order or contravene legislation making it a criminal offence to release or publish information relating to proceedings.
  • Do not fall into the above categories but are nonetheless considered to be grossly offensive, indecent or obscene or involve the communication of false information about an individual or group which results in adverse consequences.[54]

This is a vital part in Social Media history and for the safety of the future.

The Rise of Social Media


Social networking sites started in 1997, with the first recognizable site being This social networking site started the trend of creating a customizable and personal profile with the ability for people to make their own friends list[55].

Over the last two decades, Social Media has transpired to become a key way to inform, educate and influence both individuals and organisations across society, leaving connectivity as a valuable resource today. From instant communication to unlimited access the online world of social networking has become a ‘fact of life’ of the 21st century and has brought everyday activities such as day-to-day conversations into the online environment. Before social media sites became as popular as they are today, the whole concept was originally thought to be an isolating activity with only the more studious of people participating in the social networking experience.[56] However, this soon changed as social media adapted and evolved.

Mark Zuckerberg, Creator of Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of the popular social media site Facebook, aimed to ‘make the web more social and transparent’ and over time, many demographic groups, particularly teenagers, have become unable to live without the wide range of platforms available for them to socialise and interact on; for example, instant messaging, chatrooms and blogging, as well as site including Twitter and Snapchat.

Social media is the most popular form of internet usage now, with it topping any other form of internet activity, including email and online shopping. We now find ourselves in situations where desktop sites or internet browsers are rarely needed as there is an app on smartphones for almost everything, 60% of social media time is spent on smartphones and tablets over desktop PC's or laptops.[57]

Along with the social aspects, online media platforms have become an essential tool within the business industry. From exchanging and selling products to interacting with their customers, businesses can now engage with various aspects of their industry across a more global scale; almost instantaneously. Social media has also become a form of communication for employers today, as some advertise their jobs through social media sites. With 1,366 million profiles on Facebook,[58] it is a particularly important platform for distributing information for businesses.

There has been a dominant trend in Social Media over the last 10 years and it varies over multiple generations. The flow of usage moved consistently through different social media sites over time. Bebo and MySpace were by far the most popular social media sites from around 2005 to 2007 and after the launch of Facebook, the sites seemed to rapidly lose users to the rival site. Bebo, for example, was launched in 2005 but only survived 5 years due the falling numbers of unique users; Bebo users were moving to rival sites Facebook and Twitter and on April 7, 2010, AOL announced that it would either sell the website, or shut it down. Moreover, MySpace still survives however its engagement has fallen rapidly since the rise of Facebook and Twitter. Launched in 2003, MySpace was prominently used to share new music, it was mostly popular due to the fact Justin Timberlake was a founding member and took ownership stake, and funded the site through is own advertisement etc. Towards the end of June 2011, MySpace was sold for $35 million to Specific Media, the advertising network.

However, in more recent times, although Facebook still attracts the highest calculated amount of engagement, younger users now seem to be moving across to newer social media sites such as Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. The representation of these sites in the media seems to reflect and reproduce these trends of flow across various social media websites. The main reason for these moving trends is the basic use of smartphones and the ease of Internet access being so readily available. Network providers now have Internet data packages and WiFi available at lower costs, and this is also a moving trend, it is only going to become easier to access and be accessible for more people.

Many different case studies can illustrate the power of social media and how quickly it can start or end trends as well as spread information. In 2014, trends like the no make-up selfie (which managed to raise a substantial amount of £8m for Cancer Research UK in six days), and the #IceBucketChallenge took social media by storm, largely done on Facebook, users would post videos of their challenge and nominate other friends. Millions got involve including even those like owner Mark Zuckerberg himself, and celebrities like George W. Bush (the reportedly most viewed video of the ALS challenge) and David Beckham (5th most viewed) and Bill Gates. Over on Twitter, Ellen DeGeneres managed to ‘break’ the website with the most retweeted selfie from the Oscars on March 3rd, managing to get 779,295 retweets in half an hour, beating President Barack Obama’s Twitter record back in November 2012 when he got re-elected.

A very recent case of this came in the end of February 2015, where a photograph of a dress was posted on Twitter. Within hours, it had gone viral worldwide and resulted in Buzzfeed having it's busiest day in history. The phenomenon behind the dress was that it appeared to be an optical illusion where some saw a white and gold dress whilst others saw black and blue. The exact reason as to why individuals saw differently or even changed their minds has not yet exactly been revealed, however there has been many attempts at explaining the science behind it. The dress even made BBC news on Friday, 28th February and continued to confuse viewers and scholars alike. Most of the posts were marked with the hashtag #TheDress and heat maps show it trended over 50 countries and viewed over 21 million times.

Advertising on social media


Social Media offers a new means of communication for brands and organisations to reach large and responsive audiences. According to ZenithOptimedia, the Internet is now the world's second-largest advertising medium.[59] A reported $5.1 billion was spent on social media advertising in 2013 and figures are expected to exceed $14 billion by 2018.

Social media advertisements create awareness and targets audiences based on their profile and behavioural data. Personal data is extremely valuable for companies and largely popular sites such as Facebook often sell their users data to third party business'.

With the introduction of social media, marketers are able to analyse users personal tastes and their online activity and thus decide who to target their products at. By having this data about their audience and being able to communicate their marketing messages effectively marketers are able to reach those who want to hear from them. "The communication funnel is being reversed. The end consumer is now the one able to determine the landscape of their marketing experience and the brand is better off as a result."[60]

There are a number of ethical issues often raised surrounding advertising via social media web sites. Some people are skeptical about the sincerity of certain brands who exploit the features of social media sites to gain popularity without establishing an initial relationship with individuals. For example, hosting competitions and giveaways to encourage "likes" or "retweets" from people who would otherwise express no interest in an organisation or brand. Is this just a deceitful strategy positioned to help their content makes its way into the news feeds of our peers? Further, we all too often see brands trying to capitalise on national tragedies and play on people's feelings in order to accumulate online support. For example, NBC Bay Area posted a status on Facebook following the Boston bombing encouraging people to "like" if they wished a victim a speedy recovery. This may seem like an unethical attempt to market their company and accumulate fans which makes one question their authenticity when sending out marketing messages.[61]

There are four main reasons for social networks playing more prominent parts in companies‟ advertising strategies: these are large reach, cost efficiency, targeted advertising and time spent online. Large reach is a key factor for companies using social media for advertising for example in December 2007, the top three site, Facebook, Myspace and YouTube had roughly 161 million unique visitors combined in the US alone. With companies incorporating social networks with their advertising strategies, this means that they can reach out to a lager user base across the countries and world. Advertising on social media is a cost effective as it is moderately cheap compared to other traditional media, as it usually has the same or expanded reach at much lower cost. Targeted advertising is ideal as Advertisers have access to a great deal of information about users and their interests, this allows them to customize and target their ads to a degree not yet seen in any other advertising medium. With people are spending growing amount of time online, particularly on social media. With users spending so much time online advertisers are increasingly looking for ways to reach out to consumers.[62]

Facebook itself made almost $3 billion in advertising revenue in the third quarter of 2014.[63] Twitter announced its ad sales for the fourth quarter of 2014 were $432 million, a 97 percent increase year over year.[64]

Terrorism on Social Media


Since technology has become such a prevalent part of modern day life, so has the threat of attack through technological avenues been recognised as a growing problem. A technological attack can take the form of malware, malicious emails, hacking of security or government information. Technology and the rise of social media has also resulted in the spread of terrorism on social media. “Amateur videos and images are being uploaded daily [...] shared globally by both ordinary users and mainstream news organisations.”[65] Releasing them to millions of people inevitability, “facilitates mobilization of terrorist propaganda.”[66] The argument has been raised that Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp should do more to acknowledge the role that their organisations are used to, “create a network with near-global reach.”[67]

This has also led to concerns over the possibility of using encryption tools to hide identify and location, making users untraceable. These concerns can be said to have resulted in “normalization of surveillance.”[68] New reforms have been passed due to this form of terrorism and they also impact on everyday Internet users lives. The Patriot Act, first signed by George W. Bush in 2001 and has allowed the government to receive larger, more personal types of information gathered from users by Internet service providers, without having to order for a subpoena. They can now gain access to session times and device information as well as having, “extended wiretappings from phones to email and the web.” [69] The rise of terrorism on social media has had massive implications of public fear and has also had impacts on public surveillance. “All the technology that we have created could be used for that of the benefit of all of us, but also could be used as a tool of attack/destruction against all of us”[70]

The widespread use of social media make it an ideal platform to post these activities, in conjunction with users being keen to share things they find online with their friends. These features are what the people behind these videos rely on to make these displays of terrorism go ‘viral’. By having their media become so widespread on social media that it becomes viral increases the chances of media convergence occurring and having the videos feature on local news via television, newspapers and radio which will increase the number of people it reaches.

Different Types of Social Media


Facebook is a social media platform that was founded on the 4th February, 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg, Dustin Moskovitz, Eduardo Saverin, Andrew McCollum and Chris Hughes. Mark Zukerberg still stands as the CEO of Facebook, Inc.

Originally limited to college students in Harvard University where the founders studied, Facebook has expanded over the years to incorporate everyone all over the world. The site now has an estimated 1.4 billion members who are watching 3 billion videos per day on the site.[71] The purpose of Facebook is to "make the world more open and connected" and to "stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them."[72] This is done through the format of every user having their own profile page where they can publish information, statuses and other media (such as weblinks, photos and videos) about them and their life, and see a "timeline" of what information the friends they have connected with have published since creating their profile in order to like, comment or share these posts.

One of Facebook's main goals is to "have one day everybody on the planet on Facebook". Facebook as one of the most popular social networks around has asked to translate a site into other languages for free. In his book "Digital Labour and Karl Marx" Christian Fusch wrote that English teacher, Valentin Macias, has volunteered in past to translate for the nonprofit Wikipedia but said he won't do it for Facebook. He described Wikipedia as an altruistic, information-sharing site. Facebook is the opposite, he said that: "People should not be tricked into donating their time and energy to a multimillion-dollar company so that the company can make millions more-at least not without some type of compensation".

Also in the article, Nicholas Graham argues that a lack of credit is given to the vast majority of media producers, Facebook users, and compared this to the death of the author. A particular concern is the notion of digital labour as "self activity" and where ideas are externalized and exchanged for free as commodities, since the ideas are use values. It argues that Facebook is an instrument of labour much like our brains and mouths. It further argues that Facebook coerces users into digital labour by exploiting the human need for social interaction. There is a concern that Facebook has a monopoly on socialization and is "a social form of coercion that threatens the user with isolation and social disadvantages", ostensibly privatizing human interaction. The concern is that Facebook users' work "serves Facebook's profit interests" while the users remain unpaid, something which has real life parallels.[73]

Zuckerberg is ranked #16 in the Forbes list of World Billionaires and has an estimated net worth of $35.1.[74] As of 2014, Facebook has over 9,000 full-time employees and recently bought over both Instagram and WhatsApp.[75]

The object side of Facebook is grounded in social relations between Facebook, advertising clients and users. The exchange relation between Facebook and advertisers is coupled with the advertising relation between advertisers and users. Both relations create profit for Facebook and their advertisers. These commercial relations do not immediately present themselves to the users, who mainly see the relationships between themselves and other users. Facebook takes advantage of its inverse fetish character by presenting itself as an organisation that is about sharing and social relations.[76]


Twitter was founded 26 March, 2006 by Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass, Biz Stone and Evan Williams. Jack Dorsey still remains the Chairman and Dick Costolo is the current CEO.

Wikipedia tells us that "Twitter is an online social networking service that enables users to send and read short 140-character messages called 'tweets'. Registered users can post tweets, read and 'retweet' other public tweets onto their own timeline and add them to a favourites list, while unregistered users can only read them. Users access Twitter through the website interface, SMS, or mobile device app. Registered users can choose whether their Tweets are public or private and can freely follow any public accounts, whilst to follow private accounts users need to make a follow request which will then need to be approved by the account user. When online, users can post 140 character tweets as well as upload images and more recently, videos. When uploading tweets, users commonly use hashtags to mark their Tweets with a relevant subject or topic, this hashtag then adds to trends which can be seen worldwide, national or regional dependent on location. Twitter Inc. is based in San Francisco and has more than 25 offices around the world."[77] Its mission is to "give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers".[78]

There are over 280 million monthly active users and around 500 million tweets sent every day.[79]


Instagram is a platform for users to upload photographs or videos to their own timeline or "photo-map". It was created by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, and launched in October 2010.[80]

Users can filter their own camera shots or other images to put their own unique twist or design on the image itself. Instagram follows a similar process to Twitter, where users can follow each other and have the choice whether their content is public or privately shared, and hashtags are commonly used to designate the theme or subject behind the upload. When clicked on, these hashtags take you to a page full of other people's posts containing the same hashtag word or phrase, allowing users to scroll through similar content. Uploads to Instagram can be liked, commented on or shared, not only within itself but across majority of other social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Flickr etc[81] and the social media app currently has over 150 million users with over a billion uploads across those. It was listed among Time '​s 50 Best Android Applications for 2013 and is now available on all smartphone operating systems including iOS, Android, Windows and Blackberry.[82]

As with many social media sites Instagram has the issue of spam accounts. Instagram is notable as in 2014 it conducted a massive purge of spam accounts leading to a considerable drop of followers for many accounts. The Instagram account lost the most followers loosing more than 29%. The purge also resulted in some celebrities deleting accounts after a considerable loss of followers. This in some cases was down to followers having been bought online to boost accounts.[83]


YouTube is a Google company found by Steve Chen, Chad Hurley and Jawed Karim in February 2005 and launched in May 2005.[84][85]

Youtube founders

YouTube allows for the distribution of video, short films, tutorials, advertising and communication between the subscribers and commentators. YouTube allows others (including people who do not have YouTube accounts) to broadcast their homemade videos, and allows people to share these video's across other social media platforms. According to Hector Postigo "YouTube is the space where people can share video and socialize around it, and where we can turn a profit from it with minimum work in doing so.”[86]

YouTube is slightly harder to recognise as a social media platform, but on YouTube people are able to like and dislike video's, comment on them, subscribe to their channel and share video's amongst other social media platforms or by sending the URL. YouTube recognises what videos you watch and tailors your home page and video side bar with suggestions of what you might like to watch-- all of which are common features amongst social media platforms.

One of the most important features YouTube has is the ranking system, videos without many views do not show up on search results as frequently or as higher up. This means that the highest possible view count is the main goal for "YouTubers", and subscribers are the central most common social currency on YouTube due to them being the main source of where views come from because they will receive email updates when the accounts they are subscribed to upload a video. It is in fact the subscriber system that makes YouTube more difficult to identify as a social media. Due to the growth of advertising and YouTube, unlike most other social media platform, being more consumable as a media YouTube in many ways is becoming as much distinctly producer and consumer as it is prosumer. This is mainly down to the growth of 'YouTubers', people whom are recognised for their creation of content as either a primary or a considerable job. A lot of this started through the gaming community and individuals producing content such as lets plays, these days it has expanded into a wide array of content but a lot of considerable 'YouTubers' often produce gaming related content. This is where YouTube differentiates from other social media as you can exist solely as a consumer on YouTube or solely as a producer, despite its prosumer origins. Who you subscribe to on YouTube and the content you watch has now moved towards the same principles of consumership that exist when watching television, this has created a divide evident within YouTube that is not there with other social media as it is used far more prominently to consume rather than Network. Hence why there are networks of content creators and networks of fans.

YouTube allows registered users to monetize their uploaded videos in return for placing advertisements at the start of a video, and even continuously throughout if the run-time of the video is wrong. YouTube will pay users around $1 USD per 1000 views on a video. However, content cannot be monetized if the uploader does not hold the rights to any copyright material used. Users adding music to their videos is the most common source of copyright infringement, as YouTube automatically analyses and detects the audio used in uploaded content. Copyright holders do have the discretion to allow or disallow the use of their property in uploaded content, as was seen in 2013 as Nintendo insisted upon the removal of all 'let's plays' featuring Nintendo games. This caused controversy as the 'let's play' community insisted that the process served only to boost the popularity of Nintendo games as it was essentially a form of advertisement.


Pinterest was founded in March 2010 by Paul Sciarra, Evan Sharp and Ben Silbermann.

Pinterest is an idea hub where users can generate, discover, and save creative ideas in the form of 'pins'. A 'pin' is essentially a visual bookmark of a webpage that has information on a topic a user would like to keep. These pins, or bookmarks, are then saved to a users individual boards. Each board can be organized into different topics such as; food, fashion, arts & crafts, technology, quotes, etc. Think of it as a bulletin board in a school or library that has lots of information about different things posted on it. However, now, the information is just online. In addition to generating, discovering, and saving ideas, users can also follow other users. Just like Twitter or Instagram, users can follow other 'pinners' they find to be interesting. Users also have the option of 'liking' a pin they find interesting instead of 'pinning' it to one of their personal boards. Additionally, they can also send pins to other users through a messaging platform within the site or app. This messaging platform not only allows users to send pins to one another, it also allows users to have text-based conversations with each other. Kind of like the messenger platform that Facebook uses.[87]


LinkedIn is the worlds largest business orientated social network in the world. The aim of the network is to contact professionals and allowing them access to each other, jobs and further information. The network was launched on May the 5th 2003 after being created in 2002 in the living room of co-founder Reid Hoffman. The company was founded and is based in Mountain View, California. As of February 2015 LinkedIn is listed as having more than 347 million members worldwide which includes users who are executives in every Fortune 500 company.[88]

LinkedIn allows users to add information about themselves based around their professional, educational and skill based information. Some of the primary areas in which LinkIn information is focused is Industry, Experience, Skills, Volunteering and Language skills it also allows for more expansive information on areas such as Awards, Projects, Organisations, Publications and Interests. Its basis of communication is through connections, allowing you to communicate and share information with other people whilst expanding your network. The network itself focuses on the two areas of Jobs and Education.


Yik Yak is a social media app were people can submit small text posts ('yaks' containing 200 characters) anonymously within a 10 mile radius. It was created in November 2013 by Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington. In February 2014 Yik Yak had 100,000 users and within a year it had raised $61 million funding.[89] This app’s target market is aimed for university students, as they can easily use it as a campus forum; sharing information about students and things they are familiar with in the same area. Yik Yak has a upvote/downvote feature on persons yak, if it becomes popular it will receive more upvotes and will have a positive number next to the yak, however if the yak is disliked then it will get downvoted and if a yak receives 5 downvotes then the yak is deleted. The original poster of the yak gets a notification when theirs is voted off, as well as when other users reply to a same yak, and get notifications for every 5 and then 10 upvotes their yak or their reply receives.


Vine is a social media platform which shares 6 second video clips that can be liked, 're-vined' or shared on to various other social media sites. Vine is most commonly used on smartphones where recorded video clips can be uploaded instantly to the app. Vines are available to watch on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and uses the follower/following feature so you can see specific users on a timeline and share your uploads to other users timelines.

Vine, founded in 2012, soared to popularity in around 2013 as Twitter acquired its services. Since then Vine has been viewed mainly as a source of comic, as pranksters, comedians and other everyday users uploaded funny or interesting six second clips.

Snapchat was launched in September 2011[90] by Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy. It is a photo sharing app with the unique feature that each photo sent can only be viewed for a maximum of 10 seconds and cannot be saved by anyone other than the person who took the photo. Recipients can take a screenshot in order to save the photo, however this sends an alert to the sender. This feature acts as a great deterrent to avoid unnecessary embarrassment for users from their friends.

Later in it's release, Snapchat added a feature where users can create their "Snapchat Story" where snapchat's are available to look at by other users for 24 hours. Another update allowed you to have actual text chat with other users and use a video chat feature. Recently this year, Snapchat updated again with a whole new layout enabling you to take a picture of someone's Snapchat icon and it adds them immediately to your contact, and a new page where you can see snapchat's from companies and organisations as advertisements.

In July 2014, it was discovered that half of Snapchat’s users were between the ages of 13 and 17 making them the majority.[91]

Due to the apps popularity with young people, there is a lot of concern from parents about the safety features. Snapchat has had a lot of controversy with concerns about minors sharing photos of themselves. Doug Gross writes an article for CNN discussing the issue which has had a lot of circulation throughout media and news platforms.[92] Many people are urging users to increase their digital literacy in order to understand that, despite the claims of Snapchat, once an image exists online it can never be fully removed. Although this does not necessarily mean that the use of Snapchat is dangerous, many adults wish to inform younger users about the risks and discourage them from sending sensitive content through the app.


Twitch (also known as is a live streaming video platform that is owned by Inc. Launched in June 2011 as an off-shoot of general-interest streaming platform, Twitch focuses on video game content. Content includes playthroughs of video games by users, broadcasts of e-sports events and competitions, and other gaming-related events. The site's content can be viewed lived or via on-demand archives. Twitch's typical viewers are males between the ages of 18 and 34 years old.

In July 2011, Twitch launched its Partner Program.[93] Similar to that of other video sites like YouTube, the Partner Program allows content producers, with enough popularity, to share in the ad revenue generated from their streams.

Twitch broadcasters have been known to host stream s with the goal of promoting and raising money for charity. By 2013, the website had hosted events which saw a total of over $8 million in donations for charitable causes.[94]


Tinder is a mobile app thats primary function is matchmaking based on the users geological location. Users can expand the distance of their search, ranging from 2-160km. They can also choose their preference of being matched with women, men or both.

The application uses Facebook profiles to generate possible matches based on distance, common interests and mutual friends. Tinder uses a swiping feature for users to search for potential matches. This works by swiping through other users' profiles, either right to like, or left to discard. A match will occur when both users have swiped to like on each others profile. This will then allow both to message each other directly.

Tinder co-founders Sean Rad, Justin Mateen and Jonathan Badeen first launched the app in August 2012.[95]

Most Successful Social Media Platforms


According to eBizMBA, which monthly updates lists the top 15 Most Popular Social Networking Sites (found out by calculating website’s Global Traffic Ranks), Facebook appears to be the most successful social media platform with 9000,000,000 estimated unique monthly viewers, followed by Twitter with 310,000,000 estimated unique monthly viewers, and then LinkedIn with 255,000,000 which is closely followed by Pinterest with 250,000,000 monthly viewers. Facebook has 1,280,000,000 registered users, coming second to Google+ which has 1,6000,000,000 users and Twitter having the third highest with 645,750,000 users. It can be argued that Google+ is not a social media platform however, implying that Facebook could possibly be the most successful social media platform.[96]

As well as current success another important and also vital aspect of social media is growth. Currently the fastest growing social media`s are image based ones such as Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram. Social media sites that have been around for longer such as Facebook are in contrast showing very low growth. We now find the new race in social media is not for audience per se, but rather for multi-device engagement. In 2014 Pinterest had a 97% growth of active users, the highest of all social media platforms, Tumbler had a 95% growth, Instagram recorded a 47% growth whilst LinkedIn also was successful growth with 38%. The growth in these multifunctional diverse smaller media platforms also coincides with a 9% drop in active users for Facebook. In contrast to Facebook, Twitter, another of the major long term social media platforms recorded a 7% growth. However when monitoring both desktop and mobile usage, Facebook attracts seven times the engagement than Twitter does.[97] It is important as well to note that the sites with the highest growth all started from a much lower starting figure. When it comes to registered users again it is Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram that come out strong in figures. Pinterest had the largest increase with 54%, Tumblr 35% and Instagram 32%. Again Facebook had a low increase of only 1%, though that has to be considered within the context of Facebook having 1,280,000,000 registered users. We can note from this that newer social media platforms, Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram, have a higher growth of active users than member growth, whilst older more established social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, have a higher percentage of new members than growth in active users.[98] It is also important to note that the growth of Instagram is not necessarily concurrent to a drop in power for Facebook as Instagram itself, along with companies such as WhatsApp and Oculus VR are in fact owned by Facebook.

A list of the top viral content of 2014 compiled by the BBC can be found here. It would appear that YouTube is the platform on which the most popular content of 2014 was accessed; followed by Twitter's image and hashtag feature; whilst Facebook acted as a host to these sites via screencaps and click-throughs to other social media sites.

Pro's and Con's of Social Media


All social media sites have good and bad features to them. Below is a list of the main pro's and con's that social media as a whole contributes to worldwide.

  1. Social media sites spread information rapidly. It is the leading source of up-to-date information above any other media platform.
  2. Different social media networking sites are currently being used in different law enforcement agencies to help catch and prosecute criminals more efficiently and quickly.
  3. Schools are using social media sites to talk about educational topics which in turn help students do better in school.
  4. Social media sites allow people to connect with friends and family, increase communication to improve relationships, and make new friends.
  5. Social media sites help employers find potential employees, as well as job-seekers find employers to hire them.
  6. Social media has the ability to increase quality of life and reduce risk of health complications through users who promote healthy and happy lifestyles.
  7. Social media allows for increased "face-to-face" communication.
  8. Sites such as Facebook and Twitter encourage people to vote, therefore increasing the voting participation during election periods.
  9. Additionally, social media sites aide in social and political change at virtually no cost to the groups or individuals organizing such movements at any level.
  10. Social media has created a whole new industry which has immensely improved economy on a global scale.
  11. Senior citizens have become more connected and happy as a result of social media and networking.
  12. Additionally, shy and socially isolated individuals have also become more connected as a result of social media and networking which allow the ease of communication.
  13. Social media sites enable health and safety organizations to easily and quickly broadcast and diffuse concerns and rumors.
  14. Social media has the ability to eliminate negative social stigmas and achieve acceptance among differing communities.
  15. Social media is effective for activities such as fundraising and any other help or assistance an individual or collective might need. This is also known as "crowdsourcing" or "crowdfunding" and is very effective in allowing individuals and groups to achieve goals.
  16. Academic information is available to be accessed by a much wider audience than ever before due to educational social media sites which allow a wide variety of subjects, transparent research and much more.
  17. Social media as a whole allows organisations & corporations, large or small, to reach out to customers & consumers for feedback and reporting information in order to benefit both the consumers and businesses.
  18. Musicians and artists are using social media and networking sites to build and interact with audiences without being bound to a corporate contract.
  19. Higher education institutions use social media to recruit potential students as well as preserve and maintain their current student bodies.
  20. Social media sites allow for more fluent media convergence, facilitating links between various media types such as gaming, video content, media related news as well as film and television.
  1. Social media allows the spread of false news and information that is unreliable.
  2. Social media sites often expose users to bad situations, including invasion of privacy, through their lack of privacy settings.
  3. Students that use social media consistently have shown to earn lower GPA's than those who don't.
  4. Social networking sites have the potential to cause stress and problems with offline relationships.
  5. Social media sites often tempt people to not use their time effectively, and specially harm productivity in the work place.
  6. The use of social media sites have the potential to harm current and prospective employment.
  7. Constant social media usage has been associated with some brain and personality disorders such as ADHD, disconnection, depression and low self-esteem.
  8. Face-to-face interaction has become decreased due to social media.
  9. Offline crime such as robberies, gang activity, and stalking are promoted and organized through social media.
  10. Social media sites have the ability to endanger military operatives as well as journalists who report information on sensitive subjects.
  11. The physical disconnect of social media facilitates cyber bullying.
  12. Social media is often used for self-diagnosis of health problems that lead to inaccurate information and harmful or life-threatening results.
  13. Hate groups use social media to spread propaganda.
  14. Social media sites assist in cheating on assignments within any level of education.
  15. Unsuitable relationships between teachers and students are enabled through social media.
  16. Artists, such as photographers, are forced to deal with copyright infringement, stolen intellectual property, and loss of income due to unauthorized activity on social media sites.
  17. Inappropriate use of social media can harm potential students likelihood of being admitted into a higher education institution.
  18. Information, photos, posts, etc. cannot be completely 100% deleted from any social media site.
  19. Identity theft, hacking and computer viruses are more likely to occur on social media users devices than those who do not participate in the use of social media.
  20. Social discourse is reduced in discussion due to disconnection and anonymity resulting in reduced standards of conversation, understanding and civility.

Social media as a participatory culture


"Participatory culture is a term often used for designating the involvement of users, audiences, consumers and fans in the creation of culture and content." [101] Users and audiences produce, share, edit and combine content via social media channels such as Facebook, Wikipedia and YouTube and can essentially play a role in creating culture. Scholars argue that this has led to a more "democratic" culture and society.

Scholar, Henry Jenkins, describes participatory culture as culture "in which fans and other consumers are invited to actively participate in the creation and circulation of new content". He proposes three central brackets as a framework for thinking about participation: consensus cultures, creative cultures, and discussion cultures. He suggests that participatory culture is similar to real life culture in that it can shift depending on topic, location, participants and level of interest. [102]

Citizen Journalism


Through the rise of Social Media, citizen journalism has expanded dramatically. It has developed excessively throughout recent years, and expresses the surrounding culture of a particular society. [103] Citizen journalism has been defined as citizens “playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analysing, and disseminating news and information.” This can include current affairs-based blogging, photo and video sharing and posting eyewitness commentary on current events. Simply put, it is when people without any formal journalistic training create and publish their own news. Ruddock (2007) [104] suggests that this has come about because mediated news campaigns have become less informative and appealing to contemporary audiences. Citizen journalism has allowed for more urgent publication of news and events, that do not require a trained reporter to be on the scene, which takes time. Citizen journalism isn't always necessarily internet-based though, as broadcasters may use citizens' eyewitness accounts of an event via mobile phone; also in print media with grass-roots magazines. It has also been used to expose, scrutinize and hold to account those in power; such as politicians and the police force.

Ferguson Shooting
Memorial to Michael Brown

In America recently, there have been numerous cases of people recording videos of police officers whom they deem to be using an excessive amount of force. In Ferguson, Missouri, following the shooting of an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown, photos[105] surfaced on Twitter showing Brown laying dead. When asked by another user why he was killed, TheePharaoh[106] responded “No reason! He was running!”. It was these comments that sparked the massive outcry by the public, and gave something for the media to use as a base for their stories.[107]

There was further response on social media after CNN launched their #AskACop section. The tag was originally created when the show featured current and former members of the police force to discuss the experiences of these police members. CNN asked people on Twitter to submit questions for the guests via the hashtag #AskACop, they were hoping this would help clear any doubts the public had about the integrity of the police force in America. However this backfired as many Twitter users used this opportunity to vent their rage about the recent police shootings, particularly in regards to race. Enough users took part to get the tag trending. The outcry of ‘anti-police’ tweets have gained recognition on other social media platforms such as Youtube and Tumblr.

Arab Spring

Citizen journalism can also be used to get information from an area that would be too dangerous for professional journalists to enter. This was evident in the Arab uprisings that began in 2010. During these uprisings, mobile phone footage "subtly made an unmistakeable impact" [108] on the reporting of the news. This provided a base for news organisations to create their stories.[109] Although social media networks such a Facebook and Twitter helped spread the news of what was happening during these events, the smart phone was a particularly important aspect of how the news was delivered. Professional journalists were controlled by the government in what they could and couldn't report on, which made citizen journalism a particularly important source of information during this time.[110]

Twitter was a particularly important source of information from the Arab uprisings. On Twitter there was information sourcing from "activists, bloggers, journalists, mainstream media outlets and other engaged participants." [111] Citizen journalism itself was used to spread the news and it also helped media corporations, who were able to use this citizen journalism, in order to report themselves on what was happening; as it was too dangerous for them to send their journalists out to the uprisings.

Criticism of Citizen Journalism

Citizen journalism has been subject to some criticism since it became part of society in recent years;

  1. The potential for the spread of misinformation
  2. The lack of a professional code of conduct that could result in the use of unethical means
  3. The contribution to the death of the professional journalist
  4. The increased likelihood for bias
  5. The lack of quality and content

Alternative Funding


Citizen journalists and bloggers are increasingly finding ways to make their work financially sustainable. Some of the most notable examples in the UK originated from the Scottish Independence Referendum of 2014, with a wave of alternative online media emerging to dominate Scotland's online media landscape due to a perceived lack of balance in the mainstream media. Slowly but surely garnering ever more impressive readership figures as the referendum campaign drew nearer, websites like Wings Over Scotland[112], Bella Caledonia[113] and National Collective[114] all reached out to their readers and ran highly successful Crowd-funding campaigns. These have been popularized by websites such as Indiegogo[115] and Kickstarter[116]. Anyone can start a crowd-funding campaign, which is why so many consider it such an exciting, democratizing tool - but the reality is, only crowd-funding campaigners with a cause or a project that users really buy in to tend to get their funding.

For alternative media outlets with dedicated readerships, though, it could be a revolutionary funding model, and it has proved remarkably successful. For example, at the time of writing (Friday 6th March), the current Wings over Scotland crowd-fund campaign[117], which began on the 27th February, has received over £93,000 - from a target of £45,000, and a target date of March 29th. These kinds of crowd-funding appeals can raise money incredibly effectively if there is a demand for the cause, project, blog, or whatever it is the funds are being raised for. While mainstream news outlets struggle to keep staff numbers level, costs down, and circulation and advertising up, there is a funding model for the alternative media that, while thoroughly dependent on the trust and beneficence of its readers, seems in many cases to be working with far less trouble. This is a way that people involved in Digital Labour could potentially get paid, in the right circumstances.

Audience Engagement


This is where consumers can now directly interact with media companies and outlets through their internet home pages and social media, by introducing functions such as comments sections and online polls. This element is used by both broadcast and print as a means of developing a relationship with their consumers, and as field research to find the sort of material they are interested in reading or watching, or how they would prefer their news to be delivered.

Media outlets also now have accounts on all major social media platforms. According to a study by Pew Research Centre, in 2013, 71% of young Americans cite the internet as a main news source, with only 51% citing television. The research also showed that since 2010 to 2012, they amount of people who consumed news via social media doubled across all age groups.[118]

Further Concepts


Always-On Culture


Always-On culture is the idea of always being connected to the network, despite whether you're specifically accessing it in that moment or not. For example, you may not be looking at your phone until you get a Facebook notification and you check it, or Google Maps knowing your location through GPS to enhance your online experience. Just because the network is there to access doesn't mean that you always will, it depends on the social context of the situation.

To be 'Always-On' isn't to be addicted to technology and the internet, but about developing an ecosystem of connecting to people and sharing information via microdata and being passionate about being social which, people argue, is easier to do through technology. This culture is handled differently by different people and many people argue that it's often taken too far with people posting unnecessary information, such as trivial posts or sharing too much information about themselves online, creating a huge digital footprint that cannot be erased and easily monitored.

You could argue that to share information and posts online isn't really being social and is breaking social conventions and that being more social online can make you less social in real life, using it as an excuse to 'pop out' of real life social situations.[119] However, it has also created new possibilities in social conventions for example, blogging about a sensitive subject that your friends can see is easier than talking to them about it in person and allows a new level to friendship and understanding.[120]

Always-On culture can lead to real problems though as people adopt a 'second life' online with a different persona,[121] and feel like what they do online can't affect them in real life. This can lead to cyber-bullying, hacking scandals, leaking people's private information (organisations like Anonymous) because the individuals feel they can't be caught. However, this can have the opposite affect, people can feel like more than who they are in real life and become more confident.

There are plenty of arguments for and against this 'always-on' culture, however it all simply comes down to finding a healthy and realistic balance to being 'always-on' and adopting the culture into your life; both online and in real life.

Trolling (Internet)

Troll school

'Trolling' is infamous internet slang often used to describe online harassment. Social media sites have increasingly become platforms for people to prey on other individuals, celebrities, public figures and mourning families and bombard them with them with insults, threats and hate speech. It is part of a phenomenon which includes cyber-bullying and is a criminal offence in extreme cases.[122] The act of trolling can range from from an impertinent comment to serious violent threats which makes it hard to control as any punishment risks interference with an individuals right to freedom of speech. Prof Mark Griffiths, director of the International Gaming Research Unit at Nottingham Trent University claimed the act is "usually carried out by young adult males for amusement, boredom and revenge" however if you browse through any online community/website where opinions and comments are welcome you are likely to find all kinds of people participating to some degree.[123]

Social media sites are popularly used by celebrities as a means of communicating with their fans however many high profile figures have been driven off the networking sites due to continuous harassment and abuse. A recent example would be Zelda Williams, grieving daughter of the late Robin Williams, who was taunted by "cruel" comments following the death of her father. She signed off both Twitter and Instagram soon after posting a farewell message "I’m sorry. I should’ve risen above. Deleting this from my devices for a good long time, maybe forever. Time will tell. Goodbye."[124]

Social media can provide a sense of anonymity which may suggest the sudden rise in “trolling” since the popularisation of social media. Many of those responsible for it may feel they can hide behind their online profile and face no offline repercussions. However, a report published in July 2014 in the UK states that “Legislation currently in existence, including the Communications Act 2003 and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 … are enough to ensure that criminal offences committed using social media can be adequately prosecuted.”[125] Although this system is not without its flaws, work continues to be done to protect people from the effects of cyber bullying with a particular focus on protecting children and young people online.

In the United States, the currently ongoing (as of March 6th 2015) Supreme Court case Elonis v. Unitwed States will decide if online death threats (true threats) can be prosecuted or if they count as free speech. Free speech group ACLU (the American Civil Liberties Union) has filed an amicus brief in defense of the defendant Anthony Elonis.[126]


Surveillance Video Cameras

Surveillance is the intrinsic act of monitoring and 'watching over' an individual’s actions and activities through the collection and analysis of online data. The purpose of Surveillance is to protect and manage particular demographics and individuals in an effort to influence a specific line of behavior. This act of observation has been used for generations by a variety of individuals, governments and organisations for many difference reasons: such as, preventing and predicting crime and safeguarding the well-being of others.

Throughout the 21st century, such acts have held a dominant place within society, as well as many online platforms traditionally used in the modern era; including Facebook and Twitter. As a result of the new technology being made available and the internet taking the world by storm, a new form of Surveillance, known as 'New Surveillance' came to light.

Social surveillance is the contemporary mode of observation undertaken by online users in investigating recent activity of fellow individuals across social media platforms. This strand of Surveillance has become a dominant method used across a variety of models of communication – such as Facebook and Twitter - and entails the exchange of information through the form of online updates.

Christina Nippert-Eng (2010) said, "Humans are constantly scanning, constantly receptive to and looking for whatever they can perceive about each other."[127] Social Surveillance is something which is dominant every-day , particularly through News Feeds and Timelines across various platforms. Its a 'continual investigation' which entails the gathering of information and data about fellow peers through scanning and reading recently produced content posted online.

Compared to more traditional methods of Surveillance, Social Surveillance is less visible, enabling interaction with online data to be done from afar and anonymously without users knowing or being aware of it. This outcome has derived from the advancement of modern technology and during the last decade, has grown in dominance and integration across many strands of modern society; primarily social media.

Marwick discusses social surveillance and suggests that it, “Exists along three axes, power, hierarchy, and reciprocity.”(Marwick 2012: 378[128] none of which are fixed. She also relates to Foucault’s concepts to advance her point about power being a central idea in social surveillance. Warwick discusses that, with other types of surveillance, there exists an idea of one party having leverage over another. It is suggested that although power plays a role in social surveillance, unlike other methods of surveillance, the distribution of power can change. This idea relates to what Foucault described as “capillaries of power” wherein power fluctuates between individuals who are linked in some way.

If you are a user of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube or any other popular social networking site, the Government has the ability to watch and monitor your activity. An increasing number of government agencies are employing sophisticated means to monitor the world's use of social networking sites. The British government recently admitted that citizen's back and forth messages, sent supposedly via private channels in social media are deemed by the British government to be legitimately monitored by law.

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, an Act of the British Parliament regarding the powers that public bodies hold in relation to carrying out surveillance and investigation, and covering the interception of communications among citizens claims in section 8(1) of the Act that internal communications between British residents within the UK may only be monitored pursuant to a specific warrant. These warrants can only be granted if there is reason to suspect the person in question's involvement in unlawful activity. However, "external communications" may be monitored indiscriminately under a general warrant, according to section 8(4) of the Act.

Charles Ess discusses how online users are aware (to some extent) that someone with “specialised software and hardware tools” could possibly and easily be viewing and monitoring what we are doing and searching online, while still thinking their identity is protected and anonymous, especially considering people are more ‘online’ now than ever, suggesting that “we increasingly are the digital information”.[32]

William Galkin emphasised that the information we ourselves would like to keep confidential is already 'lawfully in the possession of some company or government entity, and what we want is to stop further disclosure without authorization.'[129] Redeeming of personal data is possible by government authorities because of our willingness to share our thoughts and behavior online. Authorities have previously deemed these actions as being in their 'rights' in their ability to monitor the activities of citizens to ensure equality for all.

Following the attacks on September 11, George W. Bush passed the 'USA Patriot Act: Preserving Life an Liberty' which aimed to detect and prevent terrorism through increased access to personal data. The Act enabled a more detailed insight into a wide variety of terrorism related crimes through the use of in-depth electronic surveillance: including chemical weapons offences and terrorism financing.

By 2008, changes were made to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act 1978 (FISA Amendments Act of 2008) giving the US Government greater authority over communications made by citizens of foreign nations. The Act, which was enacted by the 110th United States Congress, gave authorization to both the Attorney General (AG) and Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to allow this forum of electronic surveillance to occur for periods of one year, for the sole purpose of retrieving foreign intelligence information. Various limitations were also enacted, such as, 'requiring the targeting to be conducted in a manner consistent with the fourth amendment to the Constitution' and restricting the targeting of citizens out with the USA for the purpose of retrieving information regarding the whereabouts of a current state resident.

Issues with Surveillance


Although internet surveillance has been justified as necessary for generally-accepted objectives like fighting terrorism and strengthening of national security, an international community of internet users have expressed concerns with regard to the impact of surveillance programmes in the exercise of human rights and in preserving the core values of the Internet.

Edward Snowden

At the start of June 2013, a large number of documents detailing surveillance by intelligence agencies such as the US’s NSA and UK’s GCHQ started to be revealed, based on information supplied by NSA whistle blower, Edward Snowden. These leaks uncovered a massive surveillance programme that involved government interception of emails and other internet communications and phone tapping, while other revelations show the US spying on friendly nations during various international summits. Some of these activities were illegal, and along side the leaking of these activities came an attitude of concern over the harmful effects of mass surveillance on society.

One of such concerns was of the potential reservation on one's exercise to practice civil liberties. With respect to civil liberties, the surveillance of an individual actions may be considered when they are thinking, reading, and communicating with others in order to expose their opinion on political and social issues. Such intellectual surveillance is considered by some to be especially dangerous because it can hinder citizen's right to intellectual freedom and their will to experiment with new, controversial, or deviant ideas due to fear of police or government involvement, or prosecution, despite the supposed implementation of freedom of speech acts. An example of this is during the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton on 29 April 2011, when mass internet surveillance was used 'to prevent a breach of peace' against the affair in advance of it even occurring. This resulted in the Metropolitan police arresting of a number of people who had committed no criminal acts.

In addition, surveillance is seen to pose harm harm in its effect on the power dynamic between the watcher and the watched. This disparity creates the risk of a variety of issues, such as discrimination, coercion, and the threat of selective enforcement, where critics of the government can be prosecuted or blackmailed for wrongdoing unrelated to the purpose of the surveillance. Although there are laws in place that protect internet users against government surveillance, secret government programmes cannot be challenged until they are discovered. And even when they are, laws of protection against government surveillance provide only minimal protections. Courts frequently dismiss challenges to such programs for lack of standing, under the theory that mere surveillance creates no harms.

It must also be noted that the collection of such an archive of identifiable data is vulnerable to abuse by trusted insiders; an example of this emerged in September 2007 when Benjamin Robinson, a special agent of the United States Department of Commerce, was caught using the Treasury Enforcement Communications System (TECS), a government database, for tracking the travel patterns of an ex-girlfriend and her family. Robinson had used the system illegally at least 163 times before he was caught. While the NSA and other government agencies currently claim they are not abusing their roles, the potential for further abuse of trust is high whether internally, or through hacks. The United States, who strongly claim there is legal and judicial oversight in such activities, still carry out their surveillance in secrecy; it is not clear how much personal data of ordinary citizens (of the US and rest of the world) is being used. It is believed that allowing surveillance in its current form may encourage governments to expand such surveillance programmes in the future, thus we may face a "slippery slope" scenario. With the expansion of surveillance, such abuses could become more numerous and more egregious as the amount of personal data collected increases. Discussions have already begun to shift towards the collection of citizen DNA. The British police are pushing for the DNA collection of children who "exhibit behavior indicating they may become criminals in later life", while former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani has encouraged the collection of DNA data of newborns.

There are numerous groups speaking out to protect internet privacy, such as the 'Don't Spy On Us' campaign, which is a coalition of the most influential organisations who defend privacy, free expression and digital rights in the UK and in Europe. They state: "We've come together to fight back against the system of unfettered mass state surveillance that Edward Snowden has exposed."[130]

Cory Doctorow, a Canadian-British blogger, journalist, and science fiction author writing in The Guardian responded to the common argument in defense of online surveillance that states "if you don't have anything to hide you don't have anything to worry about". He said in a 2013 article "The NSA Prism: Why we should care": "You should care about privacy because privacy isn’t secrecy. You should care about surveillance because you know people who can be compromised through disclosure: people who are gay and in the closet; people with terminal illnesses; people who are related to someone infamous for some awful crime. Those people are your friends, your neighbors, maybe your kids: they deserve a life that’s as free from hassle as you are with your lucky, skeleton-free closet."[131]

It is often argued, that if the innocent have nothing to fear from disclosure, then high profile social networking CEOs, such Google's Eric Schmidt, should not be granted immunity from systems of online surveillance, and government officials should be unable to demand unprecedented courting systems in which evidence of intelligence complicity in illegal kidnappings, tortures and so on can be heard.

Therefore, given the widespread collection of information, apparently from central servers of major Internet companies and from other core servers, activities of millions (if not billions) of citizens have been caught up in a dragnet style surveillance that is arguable not being applied responsibly or judicially to all parties.

Media Convergence and Social Media

Henry Jenkins, one of Media Convergence's Leading Scholars

Henry Jenkins defines media convergence as "the flow of content across multiple media platforms, the cooperation between multiple media industries, and the migratory behavior of media audiences who will go almost anywhere in search of the kinds of entertainment experiences they want."[132]

Jenkins suggests that media convergence is an ongoing process that should not be viewed as a displacement of the old media, but rather as interaction between old and new media platforms.[132] Supporting this argument, Deuze in Erdal (2011) argues that media convergence should be viewed as ‘cooperation and collaboration’ between previously unconnected media forms and platforms. Burnett and Marshall in Grant and Wilkinson (2008) explain convergence as ‘blending of the media, telecommunications and computer industries’ or, in other words, as the process of blurring the boundaries between different media platforms and uniting them into one digital form. The technological dimension of convergence emerged along side the growth of new technological devices such as smartphones, tablets, smart televisions and so on. Billions of people are now able to access media content through a number of platforms that was once tied to one specific communications media (print and broadcast) or platforms (newspapers, magazines, radio, television, and cinema).

Media organisations have now created cross-media content that encourage the growth and spread of information of a diverse array of content to now be received and shared through a number of these platforms and devises. For example, news organisations no longer solely provide print and television broadcasts, but now have an online and radio presence, with video blogs, interactive user comments sections and the ability to share the information from one platform to another - e.g. through Facebook or Twitter.

Jenkins says that due to media convergence media audiences now play a crucial role in creating and distributing content, and convergence therefore has to be considered as a social, as well as technological, development within the society. Henry Jenkins claims that the "circulation of media content across different media systems[..]depends heavily on consumers' active participation."[132] Social media is exemplified by the rise of online communication services that include the social network Facebook, the microblogging service Twitter, the video-sharing Web site YouTube, blog software such as Blogger and WordPress, and many others. Users are now able to simultaneously receive information through the online blogs, journals, videos, forums and social networking sites, such as these mentioned, although not limited to just these. The convergence of large social networking industries such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter has given potential for infinite amounts of information to be spread globally within a matter of seconds from a push of a button wherever they are.

Mobile phones have facilitated a rise in media convergence, transcending from being simple tools for making phone calls and sending and receiving text messages to being able to connect users to infinite social media platforms, stream online content through the use of WiFi and 3G, offer GPS map services and much more. Tim Dwyer states that the rise in popularity of social media is allowing for the, "multitasking of interaction",[133] especially with younger generations. It is now commonly seen as standard practice for users to be interacting with various social media platforms at the same time. The merging of media and technology has made it easy for someone to tweet whilst watching TV, to be on Skype with friends whilst playing video games, or be texting whilst downloading music all simultaneously.

Digital Peasantry and Slavery


Christian Fuchs compares the current economic system to medieval times, where people are digital workers without any rights. Workers don't have any control of the capital or how much work they are getting. There are no benefits or work contracts. Fuchs says: 'We need take a time to think about the humans behind the services we use'. There is huge diversity in the digital workforce, as it also includes the physical labour needed to build our digital devices. Fuchs presents some examples of this, such as: Indian software and call centre workers, and the young people exposed to toxic materials while assembling Apple products in the Chinese Foxconn factories.[134] Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM), exposed this exploitation of workers in the Foxconn factories, showing how they are subjected to bad working conditions, are exposed harmful chemicals and forced to do unpaid overtime. Some workers have been said to have skipped meals just to keep with up the work expected from them.[135] SACOM have called this the, "iSlave behind the iPhone." The conditions in these factories have led to a number of workers trying to commit suicide. This shows the "exploitation" of digital labour, with workers being treated as "slave-like" during the creation of digital hardware and software.[136]

According to Michael Rosenblum, people with accounts on Ebay, Twitter and Facebook are slaves: 'You are toiling away, day after day, 'making the content' that drives the enormous valuations of Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and eBay and pretty much all of them. Companies like Twitter and Facebook don't ' 'make' a single thing that they sell. What they sell is your labor. Even Google, the 'mother of all online companies,' today worth roughly $272 billion, is nothing more than an agglomeration of all the 'stuff' that we all collectively put 'into' the web. Were there no content, there would be nothing to 'google,' so to speak.'[137] These corporate social media companies, specifically Google, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, sell user collected data onto third party advertisers. This information is created is through user interaction with social media and new media platforms. Commenting, blogging, uploading personal information and popular keyword searches all form part of the data that is collected and sold. Advertising companies are willing pay to receive information about their target audiences, which could include a profile of a user's age, gender and specific location. This allows them to target specific audiences later on through clever campaigns and slogans based on this information. As most of these media platforms are offering users free access to their websites, allowing them to freely create content and contribute to the profitability of a corporation, they can "accumulate a large number of prosumers that are sold as commodity to 3rd party advertisers."[138] This can be seen as an exploitation of the users who create this 'valuable' data as they receive no 'wage' for their labour. The media corporations are exploiting their 'workers', i.e. users, whose surplus labour time is being sold on as a commodity. Karl Marx (1867) states in his Law of Value concept, that "the greater the labour time necessary to produce an article[...] the greater its value." Therefore, the more time a user spends 'working' on social media sites producing profitable content, the more information is gathered about them, meaning a more extensive picture of a consumer can be sold to advertisers. This then generates more profit and future capital for the media corporations who are exploiting these users. Their personal information and created content is being sold as a commodity, and yet they are not reaping the benefits of this.



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Always-On Culture - the recent culture of always being able to access a network instantly and receive information even if you're not directly accessing the network at that moment

Citizen Journalism - accounts of the news from unqualified reporters; often reporting from unexpected or dangerous events.

Cultural Shift - the combining of cultures in order to create a 'new' one

Digital labour – work needed for capital accumulation with the aid of technology.

Free Labour - unpaid work or labour which cannot be controlled.

Internet Prosumer Commodification - The idea that everything you produce and consume online as an internet user can be utilized by internet companies to make money

Marxist Theory - works in philosophy that are strongly influenced by Karl Marx's materialist approach to theory and the 'class struggle'.

Media Convergence - the distribution of content over several media platforms.

Online Disinhibition - failure to regulate online certain actions and thoughts while users communicate and interact in different ways than they would if they were not online.

Participatory Culture - when a consumer contributes to the distribution of media content, as well as the consumption therefore no longer only participating in one role.

Social media - a extensive classification of communications media allowing users to socially interact, communication and exchange content, which has recently been used as a marketing tool.

Social Networking - the use of dedicated websites and applications to interact with other users, or to find people with similar interests to one's own.

Surveillance - the act of closely observing someone or people through different medium's, in this case through online data

"Trolling" - Internet slang used to describe a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.

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