Editor’s Note: The article below is a reaction to the previous article by Christopher Land and Steffen Böhm, which first appeared on OOWBlog as part of our panel on Facebook. This follow-up to Chris and Steffen’s piece, by Michel Bauwens, first appeared on Al Jazeera’s website under the title The $100bn Facebook Question: Will Capitalism Survive “Value Abundance? He has also published a second follow-up on Al Jazeera titled ‘Occupy’ as a business model: The emerging open-source civilization. Bauwens, whose full bio can be found here, is an active blogger for the Peer 2 Peer Foundation.
Does Facebook exploit its users, and where is the $100 billion in estimated value coming from?
This is not a new debate, and it resurfaces regularly in the blogosphere and academic circles evern since Tiziana Terranova coined the term “Free Labor”1 to indicate a new form of capitalist exploitation of unpaid labor, first of the viewers of classic broadcast media, and now of the new generation of social media participants like Facebook. The argument can be summarized very succinctly by the catch phrase, “if it’s free, then you are the product being sold”.
It was recently relaunched by an often retweeted article by University of Essex academics Christopher Land and Steffen Böehm in their piece: “They are exploiting us! Why we all work for Facebook for free.2” In this mini-essay, they make the very strong claim that “we can certainly position the users of Facebook as laborers. If labor is understood as ‘value producing activity’, then updating your status, liking a website, or ‘friending’ someone, creates Facebook’s basic commodity.”