Social Net/work(ing) on Facebook: An Analysis of Audiences, Producers, and Immaterial Laborers

Social Net/work(ing) on Facebook: An Analysis of Audiences, Producers, and Immaterial Laborers

Robert N. Spicer
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0312-7.ch017
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Reactions to new media vary from utopian pronouncements about their democratizing potential to fear about social deviance. The news media spend a great deal of time discussing new media, especially as they relate to young people. Again, sometimes these media are reported on as democratizing forces as when Time magazine declared “You” to be the person of the year (Grossman, 2006). Other times they are described as a source of social anxiety, for example, when NBC News (2011) reported on flash mobs as “swarms of mostly young people organized through social media, texting, tweeting, using Internet sites, and increasingly turning violent in cities across the country” (para. 4). However, social media are rarely discussed in terms of their capacities to tap into users’ activities as forms of labor. This chapter contributes to the discussion of user generated content as labor (Cohen, 2008; Peterson, 2008; van Dijck, 2009) by examining the process of building and maintaining an audience in the form of a friends list while simultaneously being an audience member in others’ friends lists. This labor is examined in this chapter through looking at the motivations individuals cite for using Facebook and how those users describe their feelings about their friends list qua audience or how users describe themselves as members of an audience.
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Literature Review: Immaterial Labor, Audience Studies, And Social Networks

The overarching argument of this chapter is that the creation of content within social network(ing) websites is a form of free labor which, while it may be of value or create pleasure for the user generating it, is engaged in on behalf of whatever institution happens to own the website with which the user has an account. This research builds on work that makes this same argument about a variety of online, user generated content (Zwick 2008; Arvidsson, 2006; Banks and Humphrey, 2008) and employs Maurizio Lazzarato’s (2006) theory of immaterial labor, which is defined as, “the labor that produces the informational and cultural content of the commodity” (p. 132). In this case the commodity is a social network(ing) website. The informational aspect of immaterial labor is, “where the skills involved in direct labor are increasingly skills involving cybernetics and computer control,” the cultural aspect is “a series of activities that are not normally recognized as ‘work’ … defining and fixing cultural and artistic standards, fashions, tastes, consumer norms, and, more strategically, public opinion” (p. 132).

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