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Opinion: Snapchat and other social media should share the spoils of unpaid labor

, March 3, 2017, 0 Comments

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There’s a problem with Snapchat’s valuation of $24 billion. The company doesn’t deserve the money. That goes for all social media that rely on user generated content. Pay the people, says DW’s Zulfikar Abbany.

 

To be fair (oh, must I be?), no one’s forced to use Snapchat or any other such social media “service.” If we do, it’s because we choose to do so freely. Unless, that is, it’s dictated by peer pressure – which, with social media, it almost always is.

Peer pressure complicates free will immeasurably. And peer pressure is nowhere more pernicious than it is on social media. It is built into the system. The whole numbers game: how many people follow you, the inverted snobbery of following as few people as possible, how many times your pictures and comments get shared… you do as your friends and family do, and, increasingly, as society appears to do. Want to be an outcast? Want to miss out, or get branded a Luddite? No, of course not. This fear – and it’s an irrational fear – has crept into our lives, even that of so-called professions, journalists, doctors and politicians.

Social media makes slaves of us. It is modern slavery. And we pay – perhaps not in blood and sweat, but often in shame, time, anxiety and privacy, hate speech and suicide. What do Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel and Robert Murphy get? Or Twitter’s Jack Dorsey? Billions. Of fake money. They head up loss-making operations. They’ve created a bubble – not least a filter bubble – but a new economic bubble that to my untrained eyes seems more threatening than the last decade’s subprime mortgage scandal.

Modern day slavery

You may disagree with my assertion that social media is modern day slavery. Indeed, to press the point may be an injustice to “real” slaves – the historical and contemporary. But social media certainly does enslave us psychologically – and most often kids. Isn’t that the worst form of slavery, child slavery? After all, they are the most ill-equipped to defend themselves.

Social media platforms bare some similarity with the old bulletin boards of the early internet. The difference is bulletin boards were less visible, usually populated by people who pushed the technology forward (although trolls existed as well), and they were owned by the users – perhaps not in real terms but definitely in effect.

By contrast, today’s social media are more like jet skiers at the beach: an unnecessary, pretentious misuse of otherwise good technology, loud and obnoxious, and damaging to the environment. I don’t buy the line that social media makes communication “easier” or more “efficient.” Instead I see zombies walking or driving through cities in their very real bubbles, leaving road accidents in their wake while generating oodles of cash for an unjustifiably secretive one percent.

You’re no user. You’re being used.

But my irritation runs deeper than mere jet skiers. I’ve long seen social media platforms as deep sea trawlers. They scrape the bottom of the oceans of our minds and hearts, dragging up all manner of dirge, much of it not even fit for consumption as prawn feed. And worst of all they treat what they trawl as theirs – free of charge and under-regulated – to be used or disposed of as they please. Have you ever wondered what will happen with “your” user generate content when Snapchat’s founders get bored and move on, or the platform just dies? In the end social media will walk off with your dignity and your money.

Don’t be fooled. You’re not a user. You’re being used. I’m not the first to say this. For a start, try reading Andrew Keen’s “The internet is not the answer.”

But there is a solution inherent in the shareability of social media. They – these false gods of Silicon Valley – should share the spoils of what’s tantamount to slave labor with those of us who help generate it. I say: #paymeSnap! #paymeTwitter!