"Everything we feared about communism - that we would lose our houses and savings and be forced to labor eternally for meager wages with no voice in the system - has come true under capitalism."
Jeff Sparrow (via anticapitalist)
In addition to critiquing Jenkins’ participatory democracy stance, Fuchs takes issue with Jenkins’ ideas on social media exploitation. Jenkins argues that although users provide free labor, they too benefit socially and emotionally, and are therefore not exploited for this labor. Fuchs reminds us that the definition of exploitation is the creation of surplus value based on someone else’s labor. The creation of this value—whether enjoyable or not—is nonetheless exploitative. Importantly, Jenkins’ logic decenters money as the key token of exchange, and Fuchs argues that this decentering misrepresents the logic and reality of capitalism. Building on Dallas Smythe (1981), Fuchs argues instead that prosumers are sold as commodities to targeted advertisers. In addition, these prosumers generate free labor by providing content that draw other users. Each of these activities increase the relative surplus value (as opposed to absolute surplus value, created by extending unpaid working hours) (Marx 1867), in that the tools of exploitation become more efficient, with laborers creating more profit in the same amount of time.
Fuchs devotes the better part of chapter 8 to a discussion of Twitter as a public sphere. Evoking Habermas, Fuchs notes the two necessary components of a public sphere: political communication (equality of voice) and political economy (equal access to resources). He summarizes the key debates through the work of Clay Shirky, Evgeny Morozov, Malcom Gladwell, Jodi Dean, and Zizi Papacharissi. In short, he contends that Shirky and Papacharissi advance social media as tools of a public sphere, while Morozov, Gladwell, and Dean, argue that “slacktivism” displaces “real” political action, reinforcing the status quo while quelling personal feelings of guilt. Fuchs sympathizes with the latter view, rather than the former. He engages in an empirical analysis of political communication and political economy on Twitter, collected during the 2011 political revolutions. He shows that while social media can be a tool of the masses, asymmetrical visibility persists, and favors corporations and powerful political figures. Twitter is, therefore not, Fuchs concludes, a public sphere.
Chapter three examines social media as a potential participatory democracy, granting expressive voice to previously silenced masses. Much of this chapter is an argument against the work of Henry Jenkins, a proponent of web-based participatory democracy. Fuchs criticizes Jenkins for reducing participation to its cultural meanings, divorcing it from participatory democracy theory—and in doing so, ignoring the centrality of ownership in determining whose participation counts and how. As Fuchs points out, a true participatory democracy must also be an ownership democracy. So too, true participatory culture must have equality of ownership, such that visibility and the means of cultural production and distribution are equally available to all. The Internet, in this light, is not participatory, since it is largely governed by massive corporations, with much smaller and less significant roles played by citizen prosumers.
Protests like this one, fueled by social media and erupting into spectacular mass events, look like powerful statements of opposition against a regime. And whether these take place in Turkey, Egypt or Ukraine, pundits often speculate that the days of a ruling party or government, or at least its unpopular policies, must be numbered. Yet often these huge mobilizations of citizens inexplicably wither away without the impact on policy you might expect from their scale. This muted effect is not because social media isn’t good at what it does, but, in a way, because it’s very good at what it does. Digital tools make it much easier to build up movements quickly, and they greatly lower coordination costs. This seems like a good thing at first, but it often results in an unanticipated weakness: Before the Internet, the tedious work of organizing that was required to circumvent censorship or to organize a protest also helped build infrastructure for decision making and strategies for sustaining momentum. Now movements can rush past that step, often to their own detriment.
(Source: The New York Times)