Is Facebook Exploiting Its Users’ Labor?


With over three quarters of a billion users worldwide, Facebook may be the most popular website in the world. This Labor Day, some commentators are bristling that Facebook is making boatloads of money off  its users and not sharing it with those who do not have ownership of the company.

In a guest post on Sociological Images, Nathan Jurgenson suggests that Facebook might be running an exploitative business: “Karl Marx said that we are “exploited” when we are not paid in wages the full value of our labor (our bosses, instead, skim some off the top).  Since our sharing makes Facebook valuable, it is our work that makes it the digital goldmine that it is (valued at around $84 billion). We, in turn, are paid no wages at all.”

According to standard pro-labor arguments, workers should get paid the value of the work that they produce. If Facebook users’ work — like clicking on posts or watching ads — makes someone else wealthy, then there is definitely something missing. Facebook has already started to pay users to watch ads, but has not yet shown any indication that it views its users as laborers or that it is seeking to compensate users based on how much profit they bring in.

Jurgenson pushes back against the traditional definition of labor, arguing that sites like Facebook provide benefits that are not monetary. It is probable that services like the ability to reach out to old and new friends improve the welfare of its users. At the same time though, internet rumors that Facebook may begin charging for use have been met with strong resistance, suggesting that these services are not exceptionally valuable to users.

This view raises a lot of interesting questions about how we should view labor in the internet era. Should the amount of time we spend on sites like Facebook be viewed as labor?  Should internet companies be required to compensate users who enrich them? Or, if a user is truly offended by not being paid should they just vote with their feet and use another social media site ?

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Photo credit: jay cameron's Flickr stream.


Linda Tasa-andrychuk
Linda Tasa7 years ago

Was a very interesting article. I am on Facebook, but I don't give out that much info of my life, and what I do anyone could find out. What I do enjoy is talking to good friends, finding and sharing interesting links. Do I feel I should be paid?.....have to think about that.

Steve Gomer
Steve Gomer7 years ago

Anyone who uses facebook and expects to be paid is out of their minds. Did they do an interview and the owners say , your hired? Did they answer an ad in the paper for facebook users? paid daily? come on, get real. Your visiting that site of your own free will. Leave if you like. No one is chaining you there.

Gotta love these people who feel all this entitlement crap.Only thing you are entitled to in This country is the Opportunity to seek out happiness. the opportunity to start your own business (if you have the money and knowledge to do so). Sounds like they have neither, and looking for free handouts.There are no Promises in that constitution that say, use facebook and earn money. No Promises that you can collect welfacre or any other benefits.

Ellen Mccabe
Ellen m7 years ago

I don't like fb, but opened an account to post causes and petitions. All but 3 "friend" are care2 members, and one I already knew and he's gracious enough to sign whatever I post. A means to an end, and wouldn't miss it a bit if it was gone tomorrow.

Diana S.
Diana S7 years ago

Dealing with the allegation that Facebook is a covert plan by the CIA to "steal" your most personal information... SO?!?!? What have you done that's so terrible you can't let the government find out? And if you HAVE done something traitorous and seditious, what the f**k are you doing blabbing on Facebook about it?

The government, the CIA, the FBI, all ready HAVE access to all my information. I've filed tax returns on line for the last 5 years (and by mail for centuries before that), I've had phone bills and utility bills and cable bills and credit card bills and bank accounts for the last 25-30 years, off and on, all of which the government has easy access to any time they want to look. All they have to do is ask.

The only complaint I have about the CIA being the secret "money" behind Facebook is that they're wasting my tax dollars - Facebook can support itself )it already does), and since I'm STILL partially unemployed, I'd like MY share of that tax money BACK, please!!!

David J.
David J7 years ago

Such sound reasoning here. I wish Mr. Taxy was around when I was being exploited by my college, paying to go there, doing a bunch of work, and the professors and administrators were making a bunch of money. I did learn principles of logic there, however, something that apparently was not offered at Mr. Taxy's college.

Suzanne H.
Suzanne H7 years ago

I think Facebook will come to a bad end...

Cat N.
Cat N7 years ago

As a disabled, some times house bound, user, Facebook has been a life saver for me.

Marie W.
Marie W7 years ago

Facebook is a choice and of course it going to make money for its owners. Get real.

Carole H.
Carole H7 years ago

I do not belong to Facebook and do not trust it - nor can I believe how gullible people are. Why on earth would I want to give all the information about my life, including my friends, family, whereabouts, history, likes and dislikes, buying history and countless other things for an organisation for free with no real accountibilty as to who and for what purposes this information is used for - nuts! Knowledge is power and if any other corporation or any government would have asked for the above information I am sure most of us would have been appalled and have refused to impart it on the grounds of the right to privacy - and yet millions merrily every day give up this right for the sake of - what? So called communication which is available through other less dangerous outlets.

Miriam R.
Miriam R.7 years ago

Facebook is entertaining, keeps me up to date (sometimes literally up to the minute) with the news, and helps me find bargains, freebies and contests. But the most valuable thing I get from Facebook is my connection to new and old friends. People who make "real life" friends easily and have a large social circle really can't imagine how Facebook has changed life for some of us less social types. I have found many of my former elementary and high school classmates, and even a cousin, through Facebook. Those "friend finder" sites are useless - if they come up with anything at all, you always have to pay for the information. And how do you know that the person they "found" was really the one you've been looking for? If I have to "pay" by having a few ads at the edge of my page, fine! I can even get rid of any I find objectionable or just uninteresting. And thank heaven, they are not brightly colored or animated. Should Facebook pay me? I think they do already.