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Is Facebook Exploiting Workers? A response from Jacob Rigi.

By Jakob Rigi

(Associate Professor ; Central European University ; Budapest)


A brief response to Chris Land’s and Steffen Bohm’s Short Essay: “They are exploiting us! Why we all work for Facebbok for free” (see: http://oowsection.org/2012/02/22/they-are-exploiting-us-why-we-all-...)


The gist of the essay is the following hypothesis: The users of Facebook produce value in the same way as wage workers produce it. Hence, Facebook exploits users by expropriating this value.


Although I have a great respect for Land and Bohm good intentions and sympathize with their anti Facebook sentiments their thesis on Facebook exploiting users is wrong.   


Facebook definitely exploits someone. But whom? The answer is  the total world wage labor which is  exchanged with capital (variable capital) . It is only this labor that produces surplus value. To claim that Facebook users produce value is to deny the role of wage laborers and their antagonism to rent-extracting entities such as faceebook and google. 


Marx, in Vol. 3 of Capital, demonstrates that the  surplus value  produced by different  sections of workers become a total pool and then  is redistributed among industrial  and commercial capitalists ( in the form of profit), Bankers (in the form of interest ), and land owners (in the form of rent).  We use banks on daily basis and banks lend our money (savings, pensions..)  in exchange for  interests. It would be absurd to claim that users of banks produce value for banks. We spent time and energy to use bank services, even  when we use credit cards. But this energy -time does not produce value, it is not exchanged with capital. Even when the users  pay fees to banks for using the services they do not produce values but buy values which are produced by bank workers. It is equally absurd to claim that the users of Faceook and google produce value. The extract rents that are parts of  the total surplus value which is produced by the wage laborers worldwide.

Actually the knowledge economy rests on the shoulders of   the wage labor which is exchanged with capital outside it, though knowledge workers themselves also contribute to the total surplus value to the extent that their labor is exchanged with capital (variable capital).


Hence, claiming that users produce the rent which sucked from wage labor by google and Facebook, has the following practical implication: the user should expropriate the rent, the user should exploit the working class instead of Facebook.


To conclude users producing value for facebook is a very bad thesis. We should not fight to become rent suckers but to abolish wage labor, surplus value, in all its form including rent.


With solidarity



Views: 290

Comment by Michel Bauwens on February 24, 2012 at 3:50

Dear Jacob,

I would amend both theses.

My take is that Marx was talking about surplus exchange value, but that does not exhaust what value is. Facebook users are directly producing use value, that is of interest to their peers, by either creating or curating content and communicating about their lives and interests. Capitalism is NOT interested in use value, unless they can convert it to exchange value. This is what Facebook, does, but indirectly. They don't care about the use value, but about the attention pool t hat it generates. This attention pool is itself a commodity, sold to advertisers, who can thereby sell the exchange value that has been produced by workers. In this way, as you say, the global pool is redirected, and your arguments are valid. But we should not concede that the only value created is exchange value, on the contrary, we have to stress that use value can be directly created, more easily with 'immaterial' production (which in any case rests on a huge material infrastructure, as we know), but also eventually and increasingly with directly material production.

Hence I find more productive for social change the view, that Facebook are indeed creating value (but use value), and they are indeed exploited, but not as laborers, since they are not waged to create commodities. But as indirect creators of the exchange value of which others profit, they have the right to that value.  UseHowever, not by commodification the production of content and creating even more capitalism, but by recognizing such communication as an essential public utility, that should not (just?) benefit the private shareholders of the platform, but the commons of use value creators. So the fight is to create a non-direct income stream back to the commons and the use communities, as general support for communication and (use) value creation activities. So long as this remains unattainablle, the fight is about the relative share of the different stakeholders.

Michel Bauwens

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