Class struggles in the digital frontier: Audience labour theory and social media users.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent accounts of social media have developed a powerful critical political economy analysis of social media, employing Dallas Smythe's notion of audience labour. Such analysis, which sees audiencing as a form of working producing surplus value, has been criticized for being too high and dry, employing the abstract categories of Marx's labour theory of value to analyse what regular users perceive as a fun, leisure, and empowering activity of using the web. This article concurs with the necessity of critical theory to not only offer an alternative interpretation of reality but to also point to social practices and subjects which manifest these alternative views. The article aims to couple the objective-scientific facet of audience labour theory with the subjective-lifeworld categories of media users that are the carriers of such knowledge. It does that by analysing a class-action lawsuit of Facebook users against the company concerning its Sponsored Stories advertising programme. Based on users' actions in the social network, they are mobilized as sponsors for products in ads, which appear on their friends' News Feed. An analysis of the legal case shows how users attempt to redefine their participation in social media in terms of work. Users put forth a critique of alienation (demanding that they have full control over the information they generate) and exploitation (demanding ownership over a greater share of the surplus value they produce). The article concludes that regular users are employing categories of audience labour theory in their struggle over digital value, making it a doubly suitable framework for analysing the political economy of social media, both objectively and subjectively.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1108-1122
Number of pages15
JournalInformation Communication and Society
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2 Sep 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Taylor & Francis.


  • Theories
  • Social Media
  • Audiences
  • Economy
  • Politics
  • Online Social Networks
  • Marx (Karl)


Dive into the research topics of 'Class struggles in the digital frontier: Audience labour theory and social media users.'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this