Christian Fuchs, Social Media: A Critical Introduction
London: Sage, 2014; 304pp; ISBN 978-1446257319.
In his Social Media: A Critical Introduction, Christian Fuchs sets out to provide an account of social media that draws on a Marxist understanding of economic exploitation and class. He does so by highlighting the political economy at work when we use social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Google and YouTube and shows that in the case of these mainstream examples of social media they both mirror the power structures of capitalist society (according more influence to more economically powerful actors) (e.g. p 190-92) and exploit the data that's provided to them by users for free.
This second point is crucial for Fuchs and he argues convincingly that according to a Marxist analysis, the labour performed by social media users is carried out in a situation of complete exploitation insofar as it is unpaid. Users create data about preferences and are sold as audience commodities to advertisers. Indeed, social media companies can sell 100 per cent of the data produced by users. Following this, Fuchs describes how the rate of exploitation (roughly the rate at which profit exceeds the cost of labour) 'converges towards infinity' (p 111) in the case of social media data-mining as companies like Facebook exploit all of the value produced and pay none of it back to the user.
Fuchs develops this argument and applies it to several case studies throughout the book: Google, Facebook, Twitter, WikiLeaks and Wikipedia; highlighting Wikipedia as a genuine alternative in so far as it represent an example of 'communist elements in contemporary society' (p 243) by virtue of its democratic approach to creating and organising knowledge and its rejection of the economic exploitation of data produced by users.
It is this account of what the alternatives to corporate social media would need to be like which is perhaps of most interest in Fuchs' book. Sadly it's also one of the areas he's the most sketchy on. The book's aim is stated as analysing 'the actuality of social media in contemporary capitalism and...