How Less Alienation Creates More Exploitation? Audience Labour on Social Network Sites.

  • Eran Fisher The Open University
Keywords: Marxist theory, Social Network Sites, audience work, exploitation, alienation,


Abstract: The notion of audience labour has been an important contribution to Marxist political economy of the media. It revised the traditional political economy analysis, which focused on media ownership, by suggesting that media was also a site of production, constituting particular relations of production. Such analysis highlighted the active role of audience in the creation of media value as both commodities and workers, thus pointing to audience exploitation. Recently, in light of paradigmatic transformations in the media environment – particularly the emergence of Web 2.0 and social network sites – there has been a renewed interest in such analysis, and a reexamination of audience exploitation. Focusing on Facebook as a case-study, this article examines audience labour on social network sites along two Marxist themes – exploitation and alienation. It argues for a historical shift in the link between exploitation and alienation of audience labour, concurrent with the shift from mass media to social media. In the mass media, the capacity for exploitation of audience labour was quite limited while the alienation that such work created was high. In contrast, social media allows for the expansion and intensification of exploitation. Simultaneously, audience labour on social media – because it involves communication and sociability – also ameliorates alienation by allowing self-expression, authenticity, and relations with others. Moreover, the article argues that the political economy of social network sites is founded on a dialectical link between exploitation and alienation: in order to be de-alienated, Facebook users must communicate and socialize, thus exacerbating their exploitation. And vice-versa, in order for Facebook to exploit the work of its users, it must contribute to their de-alienation.

Author Biography

Eran Fisher, The Open University
Eran Fisher is an Assitant Professor at the Department of Sociology, Politicial Science, and Communication, The Open University, Israel. He completed his PhD at the New School for Social Reseach in New York in 2008. He is interested in Critical Social Theory, technology, and capitalism. His artilces on the intersection of capitlalism and network technology appeared in the European Journal of Social Theory, Fast Capitalism, and Working USA: The Journal of Labor and Society. His book "Media and New Capitalism in the Digital Age" (2010, Palgrave) explores the ideological tranformations involved in the rise of contemporary techno-capitalism.
Marx is Back-The Importance of Marxist Theory and Research for Critical Comm. Studies Today, ed C. Fuchs & Vincent Mosco