I was reading Albin Aberg’s paper ‘The Reflexive Self and Social Media’ (Amsterdam 2016), it seems to be his MA thesis. He tries to explain how social media labour can be seen through the Marxist lense. How can we explain that people work for free on social media and create content and user data?

Aberg contrasts the view of Andrejevic, Fisher and Rey with that of Giddens. As a social media user the individual is always answerable to their audience; the timeline is forever available. We are dealing with spatiotemporal ‘displacement’. Control is possible without spatial presence. The timeline narrative has become a separate object.

Users need to construct a narrative which they share with the world. Facebook is obviously a panopticon – everyone can see and control others. Identity work limits us, we are now less experimental with our identity. Users produce content and a ‘servable audience’ via data.

Giddens sees (late modern) life as a project. Reflexivity is a constant mirror stage where the individual needs to create his ‘identity’ via self-interrogation. The individual needs to be seen to be in control by others. Because Facebook answers our call for reflexivity, we keep on expanding and using it.

Aberg summarises nicely: ‘It is in this relationship between exchange-value that is extracted through the commodified dataset in order to be resold to the user as targeted ads that the alienating aspect, and also the reflexive moment (for the individual in a vacuum) of Facebook is located.’

As a new form of exploitation we have the interweaving of brands and branded content into the identity of users (prosumption). This then leads the next user to continue the brand labour.