Participatory culture is described as the opposite of consumer culture. In this culture private individuals or the public do not simply consume content made by others. Instead Participatory culture allows the public and private individuals to contributors and producers of content. The notion of participatory culture has gained increasing significance with the development of web 2.0 companies such as social media sites like facebook and content sharing sites such as youtube. On these websites content is created by members of the community in order to share between themselves in a meaningful social environment, rather than for profit.
The idea of participatory culture in the production of media content quite often posed as an opposite to mass media. In systems of mass media production there is one sender with many recipients. In a participatory culture users create and share content among themselves. This content is spreadable and its messages can be changed and adopted and adapted by different communities. As Jenkins argues consumers produce and spread content that is socially meaningful to them in a gift economy. Jenkins posits that this culture is empowering for the user.
However Fuchs raises a number of points of criticism to this notion that participatory culture is wholly empowering, democratic and positive. Rather than seeing participatory culture as a democratic and grass roots movement, he argues that Jenkins ignores a number of less positive aspects of the ‘participatory democracy’. For example the ability for companies such as youtube to encourage user created content good just as easily be seen as outsourcing of labour by the company.
Fuchs also points out the ability of web 2.0 companies such as Facebook to heavily mediate content that is shown on their websites. Rather than users being able to produce and display whatever they want they must conform to Facebook’s business model and yet they are excluded from any of the business decisions taken by Facebook. Their cultural expressions are heavily mediated. What they create is not owned by them.
Fuchs also points out that the idea that participatory culture is 100% participatory is false. This idea is supported by Van Dijck who also criticises the notion of wholly positive partcipatory culture. According to Van Dijck only 13% of online users are actually creators. Clearly the idea of a mass collaboration is not true. The vast majority of online users are excluded or do not engage in the production of cultural content. Indeed the notion of mass collaboration is challenged as Van Dijck argues motivations for online usage can vary greatly. Fuchs takes this a step further, arguing that the exclusion of people from the creation of cultural content is presented as natural and necessary. This existentialist approach by supporters of participatory culture is something that Fuchs believes must be addressed.
Indeed according Fuchs there is a high level of exploitation involved in participatory culture. Not only are users exploited as they produce cultural content which they themselves do not own, their online habits are also used as a commodity. Companies such as Facebook access user data and sell it to companies so that advertisements can be tailored to particular users. This the raises issues of privacy. It is not only users who are exploited. The production of hardware for example requires mining and production industries that are akin to slave labour. These aspects of participatory culture are ignored argues Fuchs.
Both Van Dijck and Fuchs argue that participatory culture is presented in an all too positive light. They argue that less positive aspects are not acknowledge by advocates of participatory cultures and must be addressed. Van Dijck even goes so far as to say that advocates of participatory culture are using manifestos, documents of command rather than reason. Indeed, there is much celebration surrounding the emergence of web 2.0 and participatory culture without addressing many of the facts of the system. He dismisses writings on this emergence such as WeThink and Wikinomics as simple pamphlets that support the industry. The arguments of both Fuchs and Van Dijck urge to also acknowledge the aspects of participatory culture that do not fit with its representation as a mass collaboration, democratic social movement. Indeed, Fuchs argues that the idea that fan culture for example is akin to political power must be rejected. Rather than empowering users political activism is replaced with popular culture. If popular culture is accepted a a form of politics than a persons engagement with riskier forms of protest is undermined. Rather than being empowered users have power taken away.
While there are positive aspects of participatory culture both Van Dijck and Fuchs warn against the blind acceptance of manifestos that praise participatory culture without questioning some of its less positive aspects.