Students Staff

24 February 2012

Labour of love

Colchester Campus

As Facebook embarks on a major share issue, researchers at the University of Essex are asking if users should be paid for their input instead.

Dr Chris Land and Professor Steffen Böhm of Essex Business School are currently investigating work in the new economy and, as part of this, are asking why we all work for Facebook for free.

Dr Land said: “For an increasing number of people today, both work and other social relations are mediated by Facebook and other social networking sites. If people want to develop their social capital, maintain friendships or just arrange a night out, they are increasingly obliged to do so through Facebook.

“Many of our students don’t even seem to use e-mail anymore; they are just using the messaging service on Facebook.”

Positioning the users of Facebook as labourers, Dr Land says: “If labour is understood as value producing activity, then updating your status, liking a website, or ‘friending’ someone, creates Facebook’s basic product.

“Whatever you do on Facebook produces masses of marketing data about you, which they can leverage for market research purposes and to better target advertising you might be interested in. "

Prof Böhm pointed out that the strength of Facebook lies in its brand, not in its capital assets. “By the end of the year Facebook is hoping to have one billion users. As long as Facebook’s technology remains solely in their hands they have the monopoly.

“If they maintain this, investors should be able to expect stable and healthy profits. Let’s remember though that these profits are only possible because of the time and labour, we, as users, invest in Facebook. So, why don’t we get paid for it?”

But the two academics question whether Facebook can dominate the web for ever: Dr Land added: “As much as they love Facebook, and continue to use it, people are also starting  to mistrust it. It is perhaps not coincidental that Facebook’s IPO comes hot on the heels of political and media debates over Intellectual Property Rights in the US. The social web and its politics are still up for grabs.”


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