Are we estranged from our own social media?

Watching this video about a location-based game used in marketing a new model of Mini car in Stockholm, at first I just felt exhausted at the total corruption of social media for the purpose of marketing and profit.We’re discussi gMark Andrejevic’s article on “Social Network Exploitation”  (in Paparcharissi (ed) A Networked Self, Routledge 2011) today, and its marxist critique of the ways companies might and/or do exploit our use of social media is excellently chilling. We already know this, of course, that Facebook uses our data to make money, and that marketers want to use us as free advertisers, and that our employers want us to represent them loyally at all times, in all media. But Andrejevic’s analysis shows how Marx’s critique of the worker’s estrangement from his or her own labour can make sense in a critique of social media as well. Estrangement “occurs when our own activity appears as something turned back against us as ‘an alien power’ over and against oneself” (Marx, quoted by Andrejevic on p 94). So if your use of social media isn’t altered or effected by other parties making a profit from it, then all is good, presumably.

  1. entails some form of coercion–even if this lurks only in the background conditions that structure “free” exchange
  2. involves a loss of control over one’s creative, productive activity–a loss that results in the re-appearance of one’s own activity in the form of an alien force turned back upon oneself.

The main example in Andrejevic’s paper is Appirio‘s services which, among other things, allow companies to piggyback onto their employees’ existing social networks so as to, for instance, find potential clients or customers or employees who are already connected to somebody in the company. At that point, the person in the company who has a connection to the desired outsider can be asked to contact the person. At what point does something like this become coercion, where employees feel obliged to leverage their social networks in order to keep their jobs?

[O]ne’s social network becomes analogous in important respects to one’s labouring capacities. That is to say, it becomes a productive resource, like one’s education, skill set, training, and so on, that employers gain control over in order to generate value.

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31. January 2012 by Jill
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