Perspectives on Social Media
Participatory culture is a relatively new concept which has developed due to advancing and new technology. The term basically came about around the same time social media did, as the two closely interlink. The creation of culture and content is what participatory culture is all about. According to Fuchs, “participatory culture is for designating the involvement of users, audiences, consumers, and fans in the creation of culture and content” (Fuchs, 2014). For this there are many examples of social media like Facebook, YouTube, and even Wikipedia. In the platform of Facebook users can like and react to posts and videos and can also comment on material. This makes it a participatory culture platform as users are the ones that create content not the creator of the platform. On YouTube, there is a similar system where users can upload videos and like and dislike others’ posts, something that could create culture. Wikipedia, though slightly different, also has participatory culture ingrained in their platform. Instead of uploading videos or liking and disliking, Wikipedia allows users to publish written texts on their webpages collectively, which allows many users to interact together and create new content and therefore new culture (Fuchs, 2014). Participatory culture is therefore a very different platform than what existed in previous times. Media like newspapers, radio, and television share that they do not have a user dependent platform; all of the content and culture is created by the platform itself (the sender). These older medias are therefore not considered to be participatory culture as they only have “one sender and lots of receivers” (Fuchs, 2014). With this argument, it could be said that participatory culture democratizes media and culture as it enables audiences “to produce culture themselves and to not just listen or watch” (Fuchs, 2014). It can therefore be said that “social media are also an expression of participatory culture” according to Henry Jenkins. For him, participatory culture also involves “”participants who interact with each other” (Jenkins, 2008).
However, Jenkins does not take this ‘democracy’ notion into account, something that Fuchs fiercely criticizes. Fuchs states that Jenkins’ view on participatory culture “ignores questions about the ownership of platforms/companies, collective decision-making, profit, class and the distribution of material benefits” (Fuchs, 2014). Fuchs even makes the claim that there is an aspect of Jenkins’ participatory culture that is not participatory at all. He gives the examples of big corporate platforms like Facebook and Google which, yes are participatory in their content contribution, but not at all in terms of business and economic decisions. According to Fuchs, users to not “participate in economic decision making, but are excluded from it”, something that also ties into the idea that there is a lack of ownership (Fuchs, 2014). Even though users contribute and ‘create the content and culture’, they do not get credited for this in the company’s business and economic sense. Participatory culture is according to Fuchs not democratic at all as the “inequality of ownership” is ignored which also leads to inequalities in wealth (Fuchs, 2014).
Fuchs opinion on participatory culture is also reflected in the observations of Van Dijck and Nieborg. They introduce the idea of the Web 2.0, a notion which incorporates “peer production models”, the same one as the participatory culture models and they also denote that this could create stronger “democratic structures (van Dijck, Nieborg, 2009). Van Dijck and Nieborg examine other books which describe the phenomenon of participatory culture, something they denote as “mass creativity” and “peer production” which is defined specifically as “they are created by crowds of (mostly) anonymous users who define their own informational, expressive and communicational needs” (van Dijck, Nieborg, 2009). Van Dijck and Nieborg explain the new hype concerning participatory culture but also hint at the hypocrisy that comes with that ideal. Businesses and people who defend and promote the new power structure are according to van Dijck and Nieborg “first and foremost consultants who are in the business of selling their high-priced advice to (internet) companies”, implying that they still benefit from this new model (van Dijck, Nieborg, 2009). Like Fuchs, van Dijck and Nieborg also address the unfairness that is the new Web 2.0 and the culture that comes with it. According to them it is assumed by people pro participation culture that “all users who contribute content are (equally) creative and that their motivations for contributing articulate the same expressive desire”, an idea that groups everyone together out of simplicity (van Dijck, Nieborg, 2009). There biggest critique to this is that in the end, “the majority of users are in fact those who watch or download content contributed by others” (van Dijck, Nieborg, 2009). These creators also do not represent the average person on the internet and are often “highly educated, well-connected and well-paid professionals” who usually have a income far above the average family. The participatory culture therefore does not necessarily ‘democratize’ but rather draws a stark difference between users and creator, something that the ‘new mode’ neglects and ignores.
Fuchs, C. (2014) Social Media: A Critical Introduction. London: Sage. (chapter 3)
Van Dijck, J., & Nieborg, D. (2009). Wikinomics and its Discontents: A Critical Analysis of Web 2.0 Business Manifestos. New Media & Society, 11(5), 855- 874.