Social Media’s Digital Labor

Social Media gives us the connection we long for as human beings.  We feel part of something so much bigger than ourselves and are able to connect with past and current friends on a daily basis, if we so choose.  However, is social media connecting us the way we believe it to be or are we all incorporated into a false consciousness where what seems to be super connected is actually complete alienation?  One could argue that it is a matter of perspective, possibly determined by our internal definition of “connected” or that we are potentially being brainwashed on a massive scale.  According to Mary Chayco’s book SuperConnected: The Internet, Digital Media, & Techno-Social Life page 71, the idea of false consciousness is that individuals may not realize that giving away their free time by making and reproducing creative digital communications, they are actually benefiting the more powerful in society rather than themselves.  In other words, social media users and producers are focused upon the view that they are being creative or accomplishing a goal but actually those free efforts are benefiting companies.  Of course there are paid promotional considerations, influencer marketing, and other ways to monetize a blog or other social media platform efforts…  However, who is benefiting the most from this digital labor?

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The weight of our social media engagements.

Image Source:


Digital Labor is the act of individuals producing content for public consumption on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and others that benefits organizations and corporations (Chayco, 2018, p. 71). It’s an organization of human experience that drives marketing, mostly unbeknownst to the producer and the consumer.  In one respect, by the vast amount of digital media consumers are exposed to, they learn about products and services that may not have crossed their path or are able to be involved in crowdsourcing or crowdfunding.   However, one could argue that by websites and companies having this inexpensive or even free digital labor, that consumers are exploited.

We rush to social media as a way to express ourselves creatively and to be included in the digital society.  Engagement on social media has become to norm in our highly digital society so much that the act of not being engaged in social media is seen as antisocial.  We’ve come to a collective consciousness in regard to digital media behavior and we didn’t even realize it.  We didn’t question it.  In addition to digital labor, companies also gain information about online behavior by the use of “cookies” (Chayko, 2018, p. 84-85).  This online behavior monitoring and data mining, along with our digital labor, reveals so much personal information about an individual that I’m certain they wouldn’t just tell a complete stranger.  However, that is exactly what is happening with our digital media interactions.  The video below shows how labor has evolved and what it looks like as a “social media workforce”.  It speaks to the idea that we do not feel we are being exploited or alienated as a result of coercion and then our consent.  It’s a bold statement and hard to accept because we like that rush of human interaction.  Again, there is much value in digital communications but we have a responsibility to understand exactly what it is we’re engaging in and agreeing to.


Digital labor can be beneficial to consumers on social media platforms but as producers and consumers, we need to reclaim our worth.  Social media users are valuable to corporations by their ability to reach others.  So, how do we make certain we are not free or cheap digital labor?  It starts with awareness.



Posted on September 14, 2018, in Blogs, Creative, Social Media and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Thought-provoking post, JJ. Your statement, “It speaks to the idea that we do not feel we are being exploited or alienated as a result of coercion and then our consent” perfectly describes are ready participation in this new online culture. I was just watching the Packers-Vikings game and sending messages and pictures back and forth with friends and family. Normally because we’re miles apart, we wouldn’t have talked about it, but now Instagram, Facebook Messenger, and Apple have evidence of my Packer preference.

    One instance that really freaked me out on Instagram happened when I had my phone at home and mentioned a specific name of an allergy nasal spray to my husband. The very next day, I had a sponsored ad on my feed showing the same product. I had never Googled it.I had never posted about it, but my microphone caught it. Frantically I searched my app’s settings to turn off the connection to my microphone, but I don’t know that my on/off toggle indeed turns it off, truly. It felt very invasive and Big Brotherly.

    Once we have the majority of users aware, what are our next steps?

    • Amery,

      The more I research and learn about the capabilities of Internet and Communications Technologies and their use in Digital Marketing, my concerns only get heavier. What you noticed about the allergy nasal spray is the exactly true. The reality is that we have no privacy. My daughter got an Amazon Echo a few months ago. She had it connected for maybe a week or two. I started paying attention to what was not only coming up in my Amazon Prime account recommendations but also in social media and search engine banner advertisements and I realized exactly what you explained…I haven’t searched some of those things but they were voice conversations in our home. Needless to say, it hasn’t been plugged in since. I had my concerns about those devices but wanted to see for myself what would happen. In my opinion, it was terrifying!

      Once more people are aware, the next step is for us to come together and lobby for privacy rights. I know, that’s a very complicated idea and the manpower to accomplish it would be huge. However, if we want to keep using these technologies and protect our privacy, it seems like the only option. But that’s also to say that the majority of people are even concerned. It seems that we should all be but I’ve had some conversations with people that lead me to believe that “ignorance is bliss” and people would rather just not think about it. And that is how “they” get away with it.


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