What is Political Economy? Political Economy in relation to media “is the study of social relations, particularly the power relations that mutually constitute the production, distribution, and consumption of resources, including communication resources” (Mosco, 2009:2)
Hi and welcome back to my blog! Today I will be talking about the Political economy in relation to Social Media. And how audience commodity and prosumer surveillance fits within the political economy of communication. I will be also referring to one of the readings for this topic which is called “Social Media: A Critical Introduction” written by Christian Fuchs who is a well-known author.
One of the chapters that I was reading was called “The Power and Political Economy of Social Media.” Throughout the chapter, Christian Fuchs examines the economic effects of social media. Reading through the chapter, Fuchs elaborate on Dallas Smyth’s idea on ‘audience as commodity’ through a digital communication perspective. Symthe quoted
“ audience power is produced, sold, purchased and consumed, its commands a price and is a commodity. Audience members contribute your unpaid work time..”(Smythe 1981/2006,233,238)
This quote from Smythe grabbed my attention and made me think about ‘audience commodity’ in the modern day. This concept of ‘audience commodity’ can be applied to modern day media such as social media platforms.
One example of audience commodity is on ‘Facebook.’ Corporate social media utilizes capital accumulation models, which are built upon the exploitation of the unpaid labor of users on the internet. Users are freely registering their information such as their date of birth, gender, interests, and other personal information without even realizing their personal data is being sold to advertisers. Thus making the users a commodity, which is helping social media sites such as Facebook accumulate more and more capital with the assistance of targeted advertising. I personally think this is shocking as many users are unaware that this is happening. Facebook produces no data, whereas users on facebook create the content and in return, they get nothing while Facebook receives $70,000,000 a month!
Fuchs also talk about ‘Prosumer Surveillance.’ Third party advertising clients are monitoring users personal information and online activities. Which allows them to create in-depth profiles on the prosumers, enabling advertisers to tailor the ads to individual users in regard to their corporation and the commodities they have to offer. These ads will then appear on their Facebook page based on their online activities. For example, if they were looking at a specific item online, ads will appear based on what they have looked at.
This made me think how far technology has gotten and how the internet has enabled an increase of exploitation of personal data. As before ‘audience commodification’ on traditional media such as broadcasting and newspapers was all relying on evaluating the audience by ratings and their characteristics. And now the Internet has allowed advertisers to have a clear picture of the user’s interests so that the ads can be specific and effective.
In conclusion, the political economy of audience labor written above describes the basic processes through with audience labor is exploited in the accumulation of capital and I think its an important aspect of communication as capital in the digital era and still is a necessary concept for the political economy of digital communication.
How do you feel that your data is being sold and being monitored and you are not getting anything in return?
Thanks for reading my post. Stay tuned for the next post!
Fuchs, Christian. 2014. Social Media: A Critical Introduction. London: Sage.