We live in an age where citizens are not only consumers of content but producers too, citizens involved in this dual role are known as ‘Prosumers’, a term coined by Alvin Toffler. Sites like Facebook serving simply as connectors, users are the producers, creating user-generation content, this content is Facebook’s product, its present success resting on the subscription base of its half a billion users. However as Bradwell and Reeves explain these users are not customers in any traditional sense of paying customers.(2008, p. 31)
The biggest tasked faced by information networks and organisations like Facebook is the chronic task of information sorting and content moderation. Facebook has a dependency on moderators and their ability to police the borders of its service. In charge of ‘content moderation’ is a massive labour force that removes offensive material, their army of workers who make up half of the workforce for social media sites, soaking up the worst of humanity in order to protect the rest of us. The key to successful content moderation is the maintenance of control and coordination ; here the central hub has to relinquish control in order to maintain coordination. Facebook coordinates and controls its large information network by employing what Ross defines as ‘reactive moderation’ (2013, p. 17) this approach seeks to have a smaller feedback loop by only moderating content flagged by users, a less costly process than other companies that employ ‘active moderation’ (2013, p. 19) a labour intensive process where each post is screened.
For more information about Facebook’s moderation process, view my infographic below.
In order to combat the transactional cost of network coordination, when it comes to employing this digital labour force corporations are moving more and more of their operations offshore. Increasingly Facebook’s basic moderation is outsourced abroad to countries like the Philippines, while “more complex screening, which requires greater cultural familiarity is done domestically” (Ross 2013, p. 19). Moderators in the Philippines can be hired for a fraction of American wages, with US- based moderators receiving better compensation than their overseas counterparts. In fact a brand new American moderator for a large tech company in the US can make more in an hour than a veteran Filipino moderator makes in a day (Ross 2013, p. 19).
So one would ask, if using their service is free, how do they make money? As Andrew Lewis once eloquently put it “If you’re not paying for something, you’re not the customer, you’re the product being sold.” (Lewis quotes in Bradwell & Reeves 2008, p. 26). Facebook makes it $4.3 billion in revenue (in 2011) from extracting data from its users and selling them to their true customers which are advertisers or behaviour market vendors such as Bliekai, TargusInfo and Acxiom. These activities performed are known as ‘click signals’ and they all fall under data mining, which is the process where users valuable data to research users web behaviour and create personalised spot advertising.
Companies such as Acxiom alone have accumulated an “average of 1500 pieces of data on each person in its database, which includes 96% of Americans” (Bradwell & Reeves 2008, p. 26).
The trade-off for the user is of course free access to the platform and software, however this cost is small in comparison to the value and financial gains from the trading of users extracted information. Most users unaware, that they themselves are generating ‘monetizable’ product for these sites, in essence turning the immateriality of online communication into a physical object, that being financial gain which lies in the data’s and monetary value.
However don’t be to ashamed that you have been used, if production is based on information then in Facebook’s case information is power, thus your in control, without you there would be no Facebook. There in lies the beauty that is Information networks and the knowledge economy.
Bradwell, P & Reeves, R 2008, ‘Economies’, in Network Citizens: Power and responsibility at work, Magdalen House, London, UK, pp. 25 – 33
Chen, A 2014, The Laborers Who Keep Dick Pics and Beheadings Out of Your Facebook Feed, Wired, viewed 16 August 2015, http://www.wired.com/2014/10/content-moderation/
Ross A 2013, ‘In Search of the Lost Paycheck’, in Scholz T (ed.), The Internet as Playgournd and Factory: Digital Labour, Routledge, New York, pp. 13 – 19
The Top 20 Valuable Facebook Statistics
The Dark Side of Facebook
The Real Story Behind Facebook Moderation and Your Petty Reports
The Horrifying Job of Facebook Moderators
What Happens After You Click “Report”