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CRITICAL PERSPECTIVES ON SOCIAL MEDIA

Henry Jenkins (2012; 2006) explains the activity of media users as the positive side of an increasingly ‘participatory culture’. On the other hand, scholars like Christian Fuchs (2014) and Jose van Dijk (2013) highlight that social media raise issues, such as user exploitation, free labour, and commercial data utilisation. In this blog post, I will discuss two critical perspectives on social media and how they involve and utilise their users. 

Participatory culture
Figure-1 Retrieved from:
https://bryanmmathers.com/participatory-culture/

Participatory culture

Participatory culture is a notion that is generally used to determine the involvement of users, audiences, consumers, and fans in the building of culture and content. (Fuchs, 2014, p.52) For instance editing an article on Wikipedia, sharing photographs on Facebook or uploading videos on Youtube can be examples of this. The participatory culture model is usually opposed to the mass media where there are one sender and many recipients. (Fuchs, 2014, p.52) According to Jenkins’s ‘participatory culture’, it enables people to artistic expression and civic engagement. It supports creating and sharing with others. Some members believe their contributions matter and some members feel a connection with one another. (Fuchs, 2014, p.53)

On the other hand, Fuchs finds this ‘participatory culture’ problematic and he highlights the issues of it. For example, ignoring ownership, capitalism, and class.  Fuchs takes the notion of participatory as a political concept, he states that participatory culture is not ‘democratic’ participation. According to him, Jenkins forget about profit, class and the distribution of material benefits. (Fuchs, 2014, p.55) For instance, corporate platforms owned by Facebook, Google, etc., strongly mediate the cultural expressions of Internet users. Neither the users nor the employees of the companies ‘participate’ in economic decision-making, but are excluded from it. (Fuchs, 2014, p.56) He also says that Jenkins tends to advance a reductionistic understanding of a culture that ignores modern world culture’s economy. He reduces the term of participation to a cultural dimension ignoring the extended notion of participatory democracy since the “Internet is ruled by corporations that accumulate capital by exploiting and commodifying users in the theory of participatory democracy never be participatory.” (Fuchs, 2014, p.57)

Fuchs argues that cultural communities are not necessarily politically progressive. (Fuchs, 2014, p.59) For instance, racist and fascist groups can easily spread through the internet and influence other people’s ideas too which is a non-progressive situation. Therefore, Jenkin’s generalising interpretations about the progressiveness of the communities are problematic.

Another issue Fuchs mentions is social media and capitalism. Jenkin claims that participatory culture advances cultural diversity, but since not all the voices have the same power and the content is distributed by companies the participation is not equally available for everyone. (Fuchs, 2014, p.60)

Fuchs claims that Jenkins does not look at the perspective of the capitalist economy and how the companies can exploit the users. Since the content is produced by users, Fuchs believes there is unpaid digital labour which means exploitation. Jenkins believes that the content is made by users for the sake of sharing their own desires which means there is no exploitation. However, Fuchs believes even if the user is happy with sharing content that kind of unpaid digital labour is not ethical. “The fact that they love these activities does not make them less exploited.” (Fuchs, 2014, p.64)

Van Dick and Nieborg also have similar kind of critique on the topic. However, they are more interested in the economic and business aspect of the concept. They argue the hierarchical model of producer-consumer has been left its place to co-creation. “Mass creativity, peer production, and co-creation apparently warrant the erasure of the distinction between collective (non-market, public) and commercial (market, private) modes of production”, as well as between producers and consumers. (Van Dijk & Nieborg, 2009, p.856) Also, just like Fuchs, they agree on the point that not every voice have the same power to participate in that culture. They give percentages of creative and passive users in order to elaborate on the lack of participation in the digital era. (Van Dijk & Nieborg, 2009, p.861) According to those numbers, this community has more consumer rather than producer. Their criticism on ownership and exploration of the labour of content creators overlaps with Fuchs criticism.

They criticise the massive personal data sharing which has been used by advertisers. Users, in general, do not know to what extent their personal information is used by advertisers to present them products related to their interests. Therefore, Van Dijk and Nieborg criticise this online community for abolishing the concept of privacy. (Van Dijk & Nieborg, 2009, p.866) 

In conclusion, it is possible to say that there are very strong arguments against Jenkin’s idea of participatory culture. All of the author’s pointed to more or less similar kind of issues of that culture. In the end, I believe they have strong points and the concept of ‘participatory culture’ should be examined and evaluated more for the sake of a healthy and safe community. 

References:

Fuchs, C. (2014) Social Media: A Critical Introduction. London: Sage.

Van Dijck, J., & Nieborg, D. (2009). Wikinomics and its Discontents: A Critical Analysis of Web 2.0 Business Manifestos. New Media & Society11(5)

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