Theorists Fuchs (2014) and Van Dijck and Nieborg (2009) both criticise the wholly positive views of other media theorists whilst discussing Web 2.0 and “participatory culture” (Jenkins 2012; 2006). They call for an increased awareness of the corporate nature of social media platforms and its exploitation of users for profit. Social media and the Internet are multi dimensional tools, by balancing the culturalist and economic theories one will gain a proper understanding of their complexity.
Fuchs is a new Marxist theorist who is very critical of Henry Jenkins theories of “participatory culture” and his positivity towards the Internet and social media as a whole. Participatory culture is a term that is often used for designating the involvement of users, audiences, consumers and fans in the creation of culture and content (Fuchs 2014, p. 52). Wikipedia is an example as the users add and evolve the informational site. Uploading photos on Facebook and the interaction between the users is another example (Fuchs 2014, p. 54). Participatory culture creates a pooling of skills and resources, creating a collective intelligence that emerges as an alternative source of power.
Fuchs criticises Henry Jenkins for only using a culturalistic understanding of participatory culture and ignoring “participatory democracy” (Fuchs 2014, p. 55). Jenkins also ignores questions of ownership of the social media platforms, profit, class and distribution. He criticises Jenkins for not being theoretically grounded and ignoring the fact that corporate platforms mediate the cultural expressions of the Internet users (Fuchs 2014, p. 56). Fuchs believes a truly participatory democracy must also be an ownership democracy (Fuchs 2014, p. 56). He criticises Jenkins for overstating the creativity of Internet users. Creativity helps exploit consumers and the data they generate. Fuchs believes creativity the foundation for exploitation (Fuchs 2014, p. 61). YouTube is an example of corporate ownership and creative exploitation. Most of the money the advertisements generate goes to the shareholders, not the content producers. “As long as the corporations dominate the Internet, it will not be participatory” (Fuchs 2014, p. 61). There will be no peace while one party has an interest in exploiting the other for profit.
According to Fuchs, other theorists are too one dimensional in their theories of participatory culture, Fuchs hopes to add depth to the theory by combining political economy and culturalistic theories. By adding participatory democracy to theories of participatory culture, Fuchs includes the exploitive nature of social media platforms and the downsides of the Internet.
Van Dijck and Nieborg (2009) agree with Fuchs on their criticisms of previous social media critics. They believe the profit-orientated nature of social media platforms needs more attention. They unravel the effects of corporate social media platforms, which attempts to endorse a notion of public collectivism and commodity culture. A co-creation model of collective creativity has replaced the conventional hierarchal business model. In doing so these corporations combine collective and commercial modes of production (Van Dijck and Nieborg 2009, p. 856). What Jenkins highlighted as positive is just another business model, according to Van Dijck and Nieborg. They believe Jenkins echoes a corporate discourse and accuse him of being a naïve and not forming a critical model. Jenkins also received funding from institutions, which could have altered his positive perspective.
A key aspect of Web 2.0 business models is creating culture that is supposedly defined by the users rather then the producers (Van Dijck and Nieborg 2009, p. 858). Dijck and Nieborg criticise ideas that the web is simply a mass collaboration that helps create culture. They discuss the firms that have harnessed this creative labour in order to spur growth and wealth (Van Dijck and Nieborg 2009, p. 860). They also discuss the personification of the anonymous user as one of the same, which Fuchs overlooked. Each creator of content had different motivations and desires, there is no generic “you”, describe by other media theorists (Van Dijck and Nieborg 2009, p. 860).
By bringing attention to whether a site is corporately owned or not, Van Dijck and Nieborg hope to highlight the motives of such sites. In avoiding the language of labour economic and consumer markets (Van Dijck and Nieborg 2009, p. 864), discussions on the Internet and social media platforms are incomplete. They also discuss the sharing of personal information. Every time you click on a website, you provide platforms with personal information and interests. This aids the “co-creation” model without you even knowing it and is exploitive. The emphasis on cultural content and creation overshadows the economic value of data (Van Dijck and Nieborg 2009, p. 866).
Both the critical perspectives of Fuchs and Van Dijck and Nieborg highlight the importance of a combination of culturalistic and economic understandings of social media and Web 2.0, as it is a multi dimensional tool that should not be simplified as either wholly positive or negative.