Do We All Work For Facebook?

Deleting Facebook has become a mantra in the days since the news about the Cambridge Analytica data breach broke. But there’s more fuel to the fire than just your personal data being compromised. On closer look, the social media giant has gotten huge on the backs of free laborers.

“The Cambridge Analytica scandal has driven away some users — mostly those troubled by how Facebook harvests personal information. But don’t forget that Facebook takes something else from you, too: your labor,” writes Casey Williams in Mashable.

Let’s break this down. As Williams explains, Facebook is at its core an advertising business, part of the massive Google/FB duopoly that controls at least 65% of all digital ad spend, and almost all of the growth last year. And every user is part of the massive team that generates data and produces the content that feeds the ad revenue machine.

“Sometimes it’s fairly benign (maybe you do want that Blue Apron subscription),” Williams notes. “Other times it’s not. Data is a powerful tool for anyone who wants to shape your behavior, and as Cambridge Analytica shows, it can be dangerous.”

So how do a few minutes a day of your time add up in terms of aggregate unpaid labor? In a word, it’s massive, and all this free labor helped the company earn just shy of $16 billion last year.

“In 2016, users spent an average of 50 minutes a day using Facebook products, including Instagram and Messenger. That number has declined recently, but let’s say you spend, say, 35 minutes a day on the site. That’s 26 eight-hour days a year,” Williams explains.

Sure, it’s voluntary. No one is forcing you to be on Facebook. But stopping, now that it’s such a critical part of many of our lives, is daunting.

“Facebook is a News Feed, photo album, personal archive, community forum, and more,” Williams continues. “Think, for a second, about deleting Facebook. What will happen to your photos? Where will you get your news? Will anyone remember your birthday?”

Birthday greetings aside, publishers were among the first to realize that their work – the content they create – was benefitting Facebook and leaving brands with little to show for it. Long before the current scandals, publishers realized they were feeding on Facebook’s scraps. As publisher engagement dropped, more brands dropped Instant Articles and the live feed, turning away from this third-party distribution shell game.

They simply realized they can no longer afford to work for free. And that is exactly what you are doing every time you log in. As Williams sees it, the fact that some social media users have learned how to leverage their work into cash proves how valuable our time online is.

“Modern celebrities like PewDiePie and the #vanlife couple have used social platforms to launch lucrative careers,” he writes. “It’s easy to envy these people; after all, they rake in cash doing what everyone else does for free. But the fact that some people get paid is evidence of the value of every user’s labor.”

So, social media users face some tough decisions. Many people backed way off their social media use due to the fake news epidemic. Still, others got turned off by the Russian scandal, and then the data mess.

Now that we are painfully aware that each keystroke we enter exacerbates the problem, it’s no longer enough to simply complain. You’re either working for them, or you’re not. We get that it’s a tough call for many (not us at Freeport; we said adios three years ago when we took a careful look at our ROI). But we are not passive observers to this phenomenon.

After all, as Williams explains, it’s the users that make Facebook. Are you getting out of it what you deserve?