Should Facebook Pay You for Content?


 Question answered. 

Why would anybody think that Facebook should pay us? Because of its business model. Facebook gets money from advertisements- all those little pictures along the side of your timeline bring in money to Mr. Zuckerberg and the stockholders of the company. How much money they get for the ads is dependent upon how many sets of eyes that the company can get to see the ads. The reason so many sets of eyes see the ads is because of its status updates, pictures and links, known collectively as content.

Who provides the content that is attracting 1.3 billion people to use Facebook? We do. Which is why there is even a question about Facebook wages.

Last year, Laurel Ptak, a teacher at the New School in New York City, published Wages for Facebook online, a manifesto, and launched a series of lectures, claiming that Facebook use is labor, especially since it provides profits for Facebook, and as labor needed to be recognized with financial remuneration. Ptak draws her inspiration from a movement on the late '60s and early '70s demanding payment for housework. In fact, her published manifesto is a condensation of Silvia Federici's pamphlet "Wages Against Housework" published in 1975, replacing the word "housework" throughout the essay with the work "Facebook." In fact, the way Ptak's work so closely follows Federici's could give the impression that it is a parody, but, she seems serious about the issue.

The wages for housework movement ultimately failed. The thought that the government should pay people for taking care of themselves and their family didn't catch on. In that sense, the wages for Facebook supporters do have an advantage, in that at least they are seeking payment from somebody who actually benefits from their activity.

They have one great disadvantage, however. The wages for housework advocates actually wanted payment for something that was really labor. Sure, they stretched credibility when they fit everything that woman did under the definition of "housework," but it is hard to deny that ironing and cleaning are work.

Facebook is play. We already log on voluntarily, because Facebook is providing us with a reward in entertainment value. I am, as I am so often, reminded of a joke I heard.

Two generals were on their way to the airport from the Pentagon after receiving a briefing. They were seated in the back of an SUV, with an NCO up front driving for them. The generals passed the time in conversation, and the topic eventually worked its way to sex. 
"By this time in my life," one of the generals told the other, "it seems to me that sex has gotten to be 50% pleasure and 50% work." 
"I kind of agree with you there," said the other general, "but I think it is still 75% pleasure and 25% work." 
The first general saw that the NCO driving them had started snickering at their conversation. "What's the matter, sergeant?" He asked. "Is the thought of a couple of old timers having sex with their wives funny to you?" 
"Not at all, sir," the NCO replied. "It's just the way you two say that you think that sex is work. You both know that if there was really any work involved, you would get an enlisted man to do it for you."
 Facebook is not some dreary activity that we feel obliged to out of some sense of duty. We get a chance to catch up with acquaintances we do not get to see often. We get to brag about our accomplishments and find solace in our miseries. We already feel that being provided a venue to share is payment enough for our online activity.

The goal of the essay seems to be to diminish Facebook's role in modern society. She figures that payment for content rendered will mean we will see it as labor, and will thus be less likely to want to participate:

In fact, to demand wages for facebook does not mean to say that if we are paid we will continue to do it. It means precisely the opposite. To say that we want money for facebook is the first step towards refusing to do it, because the demand for a wage makes our work visible, which is the most indispensable condition to begin to struggle against it.
She is trapped in this language by her strict adherence to Federici's original work, but she does seem to believe this, against the example of the entire human history. Who could even imagine that rewarding any type of behavior would result in that activity becoming less popular? While the thought that we should get off-line and start face to face contact might be a noble goal, payment for services rendered is going to make that happen. Her suggestion is akin to trying to get people to quit smoking by lowering the taxes on cigarettes.

Then there is the most salient point in the discussion. We may provide some content when we log onto Facebook, but as a general rule, we are content consumers. Most Facebook users get much more information from their friends than they provide. If we expect to get paid for the content that we provide, should we expect to pay for the content we consume? If Facebook really thinks that the pictures of your schnauzer wearing a tuxedo are worth paying you for, then it must follow that Facebook believes showing that picture to your friends and acquaintances is worth charging admission for.

You might think that the Facebook business model is unfair to the users who share their lives online only to see their work turned into profit for a giant corporation, but it is really a playground that they have provided for you to share experiences with others. That they are able to make money while providing you with this opportunity should not make you upset that they do not offer you money for showing up.

1 comment:

tankdemon said...

Found out about this topic from an article on the Nation's website by Jessica Weisberg you can find here http://www.thenation.com/blog/177887/should-facebook-pay-its-users

For further reading on Ptak's views beyond the manifesto, I suggest these notes on a Wages for Facebook lecture posted on tumblr by Charlotte Adlard here http://aesthetesanonymous.tumblr.com/post/61495959461/notes-on-laurel-ptaks-wages-for-facebook