Is User Generated Context Exploitative?

@Kevin | Social

Yesterday one of my friends on Facebook quoted an article they were reading about user-generated content and how large website have exploited it. In grad school this argument was debated… often. First let me give you the quote:

“In what other creative market do media content generators get zero reward while the distributor gets 100 percent? The answer to that question is none! In the music industry, hundreds of people became multimillionaires through their songs. Film, TV, print, radio, music and publishing markets all pay handsome rewards for good content.”

I have a lot of problems with this thought. First I will concede that the value of these social networks have been built off the backs of user-generated content. People posting pictures, blog posts, music, animation, and just about any other creative medium out there that can be shared online has given users reasons to come back to these sites. This has without a doubt produced traffic and given the sites in question their value. Has this been a truly exploitative relationship? No.


1) For the truly motivated they can make money off of leveraging these networks. How many case studies do you want to look at to examine people who have taken these social networks and leveraged them to build an audience? For the ambitious and talented and in some cases ambitious and untalented (Dane Cook?) this has become a pathway to success that previously wasn’t possible that has allowed people to connect with the largest audience in the shortest amount of time.

What did they have to pay to develop the platform? Nothing.

2) It has given people an outlet and a tool to connect with people that they previously had zero access to. Not everyone is a recording artist, writer, or comedian how about people with niche interests? Let’s say you are a toy train collector in Utica, NY and there really isn’t anyone locally to share your passion. Through these networks you are to find people to share content with, connect with, and create a relationship. While the content you create isn’t something that is going to make you famous it is in some cases bettering the quality of your life.

What did they have to pay to have a tool to connect with niche communities on? Nothing.

I would argue that the idea that these sites are going to make money off of your work while letting you have access to tens to hundreds of millions of people is part of the social contract with these sites. This isn’t “digital sharecropping” this is a mutually beneficial relationship for those that want it to be. For others it is a relationship where they have been given a tool to interact with friends and produce content as opposed to sitting on their couch watching television. This has allowed for people to connect and interact allowing them to share their thoughts and opinions to far more people than they could 20 years ago. (I know because I have to read ill-informed political tweets and posts on Facebook on a daily basis.)

Academia loves to look so many things from a class struggle lens and I don’t think you can when looking at these networks. I think that just because these sites are free for the most part and were sold for a lot of money some people have thought of it as exploitative.

If these sites charged $5 a month as a membership fee with no other form of advertising on the site would it be exploitation or just people using a tool they paid for?