Social media, digital labour and the creation of profit

During the course of one week, document and then reflect upon the ‘labour’ that you have performed as a consequence of your everyday social media usage, and on the mechanisms that may be used to extract profit from this labour.

Throughout the course of one week I have been noting and reflecting upon the type of ‘labour’ I perform online and have been shocked by the amount of mechanism used to extract profit from said labour.

Karl Marx’s idea of labour being a purposeful activity aimed at the creation of use value, for him the worker is alienated from the ownership of the production means and ultimately the product of labour itself. It has become apparent to me that a lot of my online activities especially on social media have had a huge reliance on immaterial products of value rather than anything else.

Gift giving at Christmas time has become an integral part of the festivities and I took to online shopping to fulfill my friends and family expectation of this social convention. After spending hours browsing on and in hope to find the perfect commodities to surprise my loved ones, I had notices ads on my Facebook feed linking me to T-shirts and plates I had just decided to not purchase. Fuchs explains the notion of targeted advertising as, “Targeted online advertising is a method of relative surplus-value production in advertising […] they show different advertisements to different user groups depending on the monitoring, assessment, and comparison of the users’ interests and online behavior.” (Fuchs, 2015:109)

This happened because upon registration for Facebook I was obliged to agree to complex terms and conditions, which allows for Facebook to sell my private information to advertisers and generate algorithms based on my online activity to advertise to me.



Similar things continued to happen when I watched Youtube video’s or browsed on Instagram, under the tag ‘recommended for you’, I kept seeing familiar items. In accordance with the neoliberalist theory of individualism and my striving for higher cultural capital should urge me to remain on these websites browsing through everything they recommend. Many theorists have described my time online, as any other users, as digital labour, Fuchs emphasizes that it, “is not simple consumption or leisure time, but productive time that generates economic value.” (Fuchs, 2015:93) Following the autonomist theory of the social factory that describes the blurring of lines between work and leisure, digital labour has become an integral aspect in sustaining the creative economy. This results in a feedback loop that is aimed at redirecting my online behaviour for more targeted ads, and even though I may not necessarily want to purchase any of the items advertised to me, the fact the algorithm was made based on my actions has already generated corporate profit.


Fuchs, C. (2015) Social media and labour time, Culture and Economy in the Age of Social Media. Abingdon: Routledge.

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