Is it exploitation or engagement?

The first chapter of Jenkins, Ford, and Green’s Spreadable Media is about exactly what the title says- “Where Web 2.0 Went Wrong”.  As you may or may not already know, Web 2.0 is a strategy of marketing that many companies use that allows them to take advantage of the online participatory culture in today’s digital world.

Utilizing online users’ “free labor” is an easy and advantageous way for businesses to promote themselves and their projects without having to spend much time or money.  It is questioned whether this use of free labor is exploitation or engagement-exploitation being companies simply using people’s online work for their own gain and engagement being more appreciative of people’s online work and building a stronger online community in the process.

The idea of a moral economy comes up in that their should be a balance between companies’ “exploitation” and users’ “engagement” so each side can feel like they trust the other.  If users’ feel like they’re being unnecessarily exploited by corporations, they will push back. Likewise, if corporations feel like users’ are using too much of the companies copyrighted work without permission, they might file a lawsuit against them.

“Perhaps this is what Terranova means when she describes the activities associated with ‘free labor’ as ‘pleasurably embraced’ by participants, even as they are also being commodified and ‘exploited’ by corporate interests” (p. 60).

This Youtube video that shares “Good Movies on Netflix” with its viewers is a good example of the above quote.  The Youtuber clearly enjoys making these videos for the public (“pleasurably embraced”) but at the same time he is promoting Netflix for free, and may not even realize it.

This “exploitation” that the book routinely mentions probably isn’t a big problem for most low-level Youtubers.  It really only affects them if their content is taken down due to copyright infringement.  Otherwise, they probably don’t even know it’s happening.


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