Shunning Facebook, and Living to Tell about It, an article in the NYTimes today got me thinking about the work on labor and social media of a fellow doctoral researcher at Z-node Trebor Scholz. Although the Times article cites different reasons for shunning FB, Trebor’s arguments about privacy, ownership and exploitation have been the most compelling to me. He compares time spent on FB, MySpace and other social media to sweatshop labor. ‘Come on!’, you might say, ‘that is an extreme comparison, after all, FB is fun!’ Well, I thought that too but when Trebor pointed out the massive numbers of hours western teenagers spend on social media sites and the monetary value of this content to owners of social media sites (sites that would have zero content without the benefit of this free labor) I began to wonder about inequality and exploitation.

Content generated by networked publics was the main reason for the fact that the top ten websites accounted for forty percent of all Internet traffic in 2006. Community creates massive market value and has become the foremost commodity. Profiting from the labor of the very many, the very few get richer and richer. – Scholz

‘But social media users are also benefiting!’, you say. Yes, it’s true, but most users believe that their content and conversations are under their personal control, they are unaware of the dangerous privacy and restrictive content ownership policies of FB. Trebor continues:

Networked publics contributing to the main social networking sites, however, also gain much in the process! Don’t forget about the pleasure of creation, knowledge exchange, fame, a “home,” friendships, and dates. Contributors to the sociable web comment, tag, rank, forward, read, subscribe, re-post, link, moderate, remix, share, and collaborate, favorite, and write. They flirt, work, play, chat, gossip, discuss, learn and by doing so they share life experiences and archive memories. At the same time, the platform-providing businesses monetize their attention, time, and uploaded content.

I recommend listening to this presentation and demanding full transparency of the rules of social networking sites as they relate to ownership, privacy, and the relationship between cost and profit