[iDC] How does social media educate?

Michel Bauwens michelsub2004 at gmail.com
Thu Feb 8 19:03:42 EST 2007

Very interesting, and it seems, recurring debate.

I think it helps if we also introduce a hierarchy of engagement concerning

In the Web 2.0 model, people swarm to participatory platforms, motivated by
individual interests, by the need for attention and sharing one's
expression, having weak links with each other. The owners of the
participatory platforms have to finance the development of the platform,
finance the immense server farms making it all possible, and they are in it
for the profit, which they seek to obtain through attention aggregation and
its reselling.

A key question is: are contributors in it for the money, or for other forms
of value which trump the monetary value? I believe the latter, which is why
revenue sharing seems such a weal issue. It is only when your production is
very successfull, that you start wondering, did I get my fair share, but
before that treshold, you are mostly grateful for the platform of
expression. Now, is revenue sharing really advisable, or does it create, a
part from possible crowding out sharing behaviour, biases in the expression
process, which would not occur without the money? This is not a trivial
question. If people get paid for it, do I still trust the Amazon review,
will it not lead to a different YouTube, more like television, and less like
the freefest it is now?

In the FLOSS movement though, and in pure peer production generally, we have
a notch up in the sharing equation; here we have communities, building
common resources, frequently using free infrastructure, and because of this
process, stronger links. Here we have the emergence of a commons-oriented
business model; we have autonomously governance (peer governance)
communities, using for-benefit organisational support models, and
acquiescing in corporate support ecologies, which make the projects more
sustainable for the collective and the individuals involved. Here, because
of the crowding out, commons-dependent companies also rarely directly pay
out the volunteers, or if they do so, if I'm not mistaken, they also respect
the autonomous goal setting of the volunteer communities.

Therefore we see that, where communities are more in control themselves,
they do not revert to revenue sharing in their commons-oriented production,
for the reasons giving above.

This then helps us better judge the web 2.0 business models.

Individuals are freely participating, mostly feeling that they already fair
value back, otherwise, in a capitalist economy based on self-interest, it
would generate a huge backlash. When a backlash occurs, it's rarely about
revenue sharing. And when a company like YouTube, under pressure from
revenue-sharing competitors, finally introduce the practice and even start
recognizing individual ownership of creation, is it really that huge a
progress, or rathera further distortion of the free expression and sharing?

The participatory platforms need to get funded, including the nonprofit
ones, and unobstrusive advertising is the only solution for most of such
companies. Given that reality, and the other reality that free communities
are accepting corporate support anyway, as long as it respects the
non-reciprocal peer dynamic of communal production, then perhaps the real
ethical questions are not there?

Rather, they lie with us, peer producers. But in all cases where we accept
less than autonomous infrastructures, and accept the privately-funded
private platforms, then we have to accept the dual nature of those
platforms, who are both co-dependent on the expressive sharing dynamic, and
the need to fund, and profit from, that same activity.

So, if the concern about the web 2.0 ethic is false or misleading, where do
the true ethical questions lay?

Perhaps the answer is the following:

1) to acquiesce that sharing practices are a huge advance in social

2) that community-based open infrastructures are better but not always in
every case more 'competitive'

3) that we should work, rather than complain about voluntary labour, in
creating economic formats, that are equally commons-dependent and
supportive, but operate along cooperative lines of equity in that very same

Let's be watchful of abuses by Web 2.0 companies by all means (but not
necessarily be obsessed by revenue sharing practices), but more importantly,
let us construct the infrastructure of the peer to peer civilization of


On 2/8/07, trebor at thing.net <trebor at thing.net> wrote:
> One guide defines the standards for ethical action through the lens of 5
> different approaches (thanks to Terry Perlin for the link).
> 1) "The utilitarian approach: follow the action that does the least harm
> and
> provides the most good."
> YouTube's payment will in many cases not be equivalent to the value of the
> uploaded content given its viewership of some 10 million people in cases
> like
> the infamous treadmill video. Harm, here, is the loss of time, donation of
> free
> creative labor, and a harassment of our attention.
> 2) "The rights approach: humans have dignity and have thus the right to be
> treated as ends and not as means to other ends. This includes the right to
> be
> told the truth, the right to make life choices freely, the right to
> privacy."
> It'd be interesting to get a clear sense of YouTube's or Amazon's profits,
> directly gained from the free immaterial labor of the likes of Amazon.com
> top-ranked reviewer Harriet Klausner who wrote 13050 reviews. Unpaid.
> That, to
> me, makes the underpaid McDonald's worker look privileged. But, yes, I
> know:
> the common good; I'll comment on that in a moment.
> 3) "The fairness approach: equals should be treated as equals."
> That's a tricky one. Who measures equality?
> 4) The common good approach: sees life as being conducted as part of a
> group and
> asks us to contribute to that group.
> Amazon reviewers and all the 65.000 contributors to YouTube every day
> arguably
> contribute to the common good. Also Hanah Arendt describes the common good
> as a
> key motivation for participation. Sure. The problem in this case, however,
> is
> that the common good is helped while at the same time a corporate entity
> gets
> rich, rich, and richer: and that is... making a fortune of YOU.
> 5) "Virtues approach- the idea that ethical action has to be consistent
> with
> certain virtues such as honesty, courage, compassion, tolerance, love,
> integrity, fidelity, fairness, self-control. The question that should be
> asked
> is: 'Is this action consistent with my acting at my best?'"
> Are Amazon, YouTube, or MySpace, or.....(fill in other less often targeted
> companies) on their best behavior?
> To most content creators who are socialized into capitalism, this
> exploitation
> of labor may appear to be natural. We receive a service -- think "free"
> (?)...
> "gift" (?) -- and in return our attention gets harassed.
> The most perverted version of this naturalized exploitation is Yaadz
> (http://www.yaadz.com/). This site offers video ads created and uploaded
> by the
> people who watch them. Somebody who loves Nike shoes can now create their
> own
> video ad and upload it too. And it's free. They don't even have to pay for
> giving their immaterial labor away for free. In East Germany where people
> gave
> socialism a shot for some forty years, many things stank. But surely
> people
> would have rolled on the floor laughing if you'd have suggested to them to
> create advertisement aimed at themselves for free.
> But this dynamic is not more unethical than mostly everything else in
> capitalism. In stores, more and more services are moved to the 'guest'
> (oh, no-
> it's not a "customer" anymore). We dutifully empty our tray in the trash
> can-
> full of compassion for the poor service person who'd have to clean up
> after us
> otherwise. We forget that this is a deliberate setup with the people who
> shape
> these situations being out of our reach. We fill our own cups with coffee,
> etc.
> While Bertram Gross' term "friendly fascism" is too strong, what happens
> here is
> gruesome.
> But why complain, like Nicholas Carr, about this exploitative nature of
> the
> sociable web? It should not surprise us that behind the hip mask (of music
> on
> MySpace or Chinese karaoke on YouTube) hides the grim face of big capital
> (i.e.
> Rupert Murdoch). First, it's your time that is targeted, and second, it's
> about
> harnessing our distributed creativity. The all-out goal is not immediately
> our
> money. Our attention is what pays the bills.
> The capitalist mother milk makes people look at society through the rosy
> glasses
> of corporate interest (instead of their own). Who cares if we 'outsource'
> our
> life memories to Flickr, which requires all its members to sign on to
> Yahoo
> spam now? Well, we should care. And sure, there is always enough room for
> the
> exploited to navigate within certain parameters affording them the
> impression
> of freedom.
> Amazon.com is a curious example. Here, the common good is the sales pitch.
> Yeah,
> yeah, in the community bookstore you do not find twelve people offering
> you
> advise on a book. Amazon.com is hard to beat as a research tool (and who
> does
> go through the pain of researching there but then buying elsewhere). The
> perverted logic of some people in their early twenties is articulated in
> the
> question: Why would not I help Amazon.com? They offer such an awesome
> service.
> And because you paid for the book you are now grateful and leave a review?
> ...
> What did I miss here?
> In the end, what alternatives are there, really? Corporate platforms for
> socializing are of course also spaces where activism and much interesting
> artistic practice are situated today. Politicians realize that Youtube and
> Myspace and also SecondLife are spaces where they have large audiences
> that may
> even listen. Will they go out and vote after sitting in a Secondlife
> lecture by
> a politician-- the verdict is out on that one. And for those among you who
> think this is all frying small potatoes, and that the issues are much
> larger
> and that the world revolution will start in 20 years-- well, I certainly
> don't
> see that happening in the US, Europe or Switzerland any time soon. It
> behooves
> us to look at the specifics of the current changes and the claims for
> democratization of society, through "massification" of voice in the
> sociable
> web, for example.
> We should just give up looking to the web for autonomous spaces, perhaps.
> The
> best you can get today is hybrid capitalism. This hybridity of the
> sociable web
> is about the interests that are represented. Today's little web service
> that
> represents the true interests of those who populate it, in a Habermasian
> way,
> is bought up by Yahoo tomorrow. The hunt for our attention begins.
> -ts
> The author makes a living through his contract at a State Research
> University
> and through public lectures, which in some way may influence his views. He
> is
> not on any corporate advisory board and would reject such offers.
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