social media, digital labour and the creation of profit

[Image via Jason Howie under Flickr Creative Commons]

While using social media networks do you consider yourself a labourer of the Internet? Consider your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Reddit forums. Your online activities may have more profit to them than you think. This blog post will look at Tiziana Terranova’s concept of “free labour” in relation to my personal online social media usage.

In Network Culture Terranova refers to Internet usage and activity as “free labour” or, “a feature of the cultural economy at large, and an important, yet unacknowledged source of value in advanced capitalist societies” (2004: 73). In other words, the power of media culture is using the Internet as a platform for free labour, which often goes unnoticed and unobserved by the daily online user.

Whose labour creates profit in the creative industries? I set out to answer this question over the course of one week, documenting my social media labour usage. During one week I used Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, eBay, LinkedIn and Snapchat daily. Tweeting once, Instagramming once, liking company pages on LinkedIn and Facebook and Snapchatting up to 3+ stories was the average day. According to Terranova, media culture uses the Internet as a platform for free labour to promote and advertise products. For example, my tweet regarding Creative Commons on the 4th of January, 2016 is 1. An act of culture as I am socially engaging with the theory of Creative Commons and 2. Active advertisement of Creative Commons to my Twitter audience. Even if zero Twitter users see my Creative Commons tweet, I am still performing “free labour” in marketing the concept to my online following of 350+ people. In actuality, zero people did not see my tweet. As of 9th January, my tweet received 75 impressions,  6 engagements, 3 link clicks and 1 like.

[Image via Wikimedia Commons]

[Image via Wikimedia Commons]

In addition to my Twitter labour as mentioned above, my eBay usage has risen lately with my new found interest in the world of bidding. During my documented week of social media usage, I bid on and won a designer dress for £10. Overjoyed by my discount find, I immediately posted this to my Snapchat story, documenting the bidding process before and following the win. In this case my labour extends two-fold, once for the promotion of the brand and twice for the advertisement of the online shopping culture offered by eBay. Terranova states: “free labour is the moment where knowledgeable consumption of culture is translated into excess productive activities that are pleasurably embraced and at the same time often shamelessly exploited” (2004: 78). The pleasure from my eBay success was as Terranova argues, a “shameless exploitation” of media culture and thus a second result of my “free labour” in just one week of using social media.

It is in the current culture of online media which Terranova’s argument of free labour goes unnoticed. Will online users ever see their “usage” of social media as “labour”? Only time can tell.


  • Terranova, T. (2004) ‘Free labour’, Network Culture: Politics for the Information Age. London: Pluto Press.

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