Jenkins: Fuchs, there are many things I would like to learn from you. I believe you already know many of my key beliefs: that social media is spreadable media, that consumers are grassroots advocates for material that is meaningful to them, that consumers ultimately benefit from this media, and that social media is an expression of participatory culture. I would like to hear your critical discussion of these topics.
Fuchs: Ah, Jenkins, you have ignored so many key tenants, I barely know where to begin! But for your sake, I shall try. First, how do you define participatory culture?
Jenkins: Primarily, it’s meeting on the web to form groups and make and share content. It revolves around culture; there are low barriers to be expressive, there is generally some informal mentorship, and members of the culture feel their contributions matter and they are socially connected with each other.
Fuchs: Yes, this is your first large mistake! You ignore participatory democracy in this “participatory culture” of yours, things like ownership and capitalism and profit and the distribution of the benefits you claim consumers gain. You mustn’t exclude such thoughts in a discussion of participatory culture, lest you leave out such an important dialogue.
Jenkins: What are you implying here?
Fuchs: I’m implying nothing – instead, I will make this very clear: We cannot talk of participatory culture as though democracy is not involved, and any true participatory democracy must also be an ownership democracy.
Jenkins: What then of the relativity of participatory culture? Surely not everyone is able to fully participate.
Fuchs: And why is that? That is merely fetish thinking! Such social circumstances can be changed. Is not the point of participation that individuals have the right and reality to make decisions and govern that which affects them? Participation is a universal political demand, not something relative!
Jenkins: I see what you’re trying to get at. But what then of corporate responsibility?
Fuchs: Ah, I’m glad you bring this up. Capitalist organizations want one thing: profit. Capitalists want to increase productivity to increase profits, not raise labor prices or become sustainable. In a capitalist environment, monopolies and concentration are desirable to eradicate competition, and media can be a structural feature of capitalism! Do you not see the issue?
Jenkins: So are you saying that internet culture is, in fact, controlled by companies and not separate from the political economy?
Fuchs: Exactly! Social media culture is a culture industry. While you may focus on expression and experience, you must see how these are entangled with capital accumulation. You need also realize the downsides to the internet as a whole, such as economic crises and privacy violations.
Jenkins: Okay, so let’s say I follow you with the political issue of participatory culture. What of fan culture? Do these not guide the way for more productive and meaningful public culture?
Fuchs: And how do you go about making that assumption? Just because an individual is passionate about speaking to networks or producers or are aware of how to organize does not mean they will make a valuable contribution to protesting against real social and political issues. You are assuming a connection here between fandom and political protest that simply does not exist!
Jenkins: But what about the 2011 revolution in Egypt? There, social media was used for political purposes.
Fuchs: Yes, but there is a distinction here. Protestors made use of social media to form political, not fan, communities to actually engage. Social media did not form the revolution; it was merely a tool that supported it. Engagement in popular culture and social media is not necessarily political.
Jenkins: Fine, can we at least agree that participatory culture advances cultural diversity?
Fuchs: Well, yes, but there is a caveat – not everyone has the same power, and often content is marginalized because, again, visibility is a resource that corporations can buy. It goes back to capitalism yet again!
Jenkins: You keep mentioning capitalism, is there more you’d like to elaborate about the relationship been capitalism and social media?
Fuchs: Oh, there’s plenty. Let’s discuss this further – the ideas of social media and political economy.
Jenkins: Excellent, I can speak to that. I mean, the internet is, and has certainly become, a place for consumer participation. This certainly feeds into democratic theory, does it not?
Fuchs: Again, you miss critical points! You must consider participatory democracy theory, with the dual ideas: understanding democracy as encompassing more than just voting but the economy and culture as well, and questioning whether or not participatory democracy is even compatible with capitalism in the first place!
Jenkins: Are you trying to say that the internet is capitalist?
Fuchs: I would say that’s rather obvious, isn’t it? Corporations dominate social media and the internet, so yes, the internet is mostly capitalist in its character. Social media, when controlled by corporations, cannot be a public sphere or participatory democratic space.
Jenkins: How, though, does capitalism shape the internet?
Fuchs: Well, I’ll begin by saying that those of you who believe social media ideology are wrong by neglecting this role of capitalism. Also, consider corporate social media. Freedoms are suspended, namely of association and assembly. Corporation and other political actors dominate formation of speech and opinions on social media. Thus, the concept of social media participation is an ideology. I would be hard-pressed to argue it as a valid political agency with its current capitalist issues.
Jenkins: What next, you think social media is exploitative?
Fuchs: Do you honestly not? Even holding my thoughts on capital accumulations partially aside, which I find that, on corporate social media platforms, is funded by targeted advertising, we cannot ignore the issue of exploitation and free labor.
Jenkins: Allow me to postulate that this is another capitalist issue?
Fuchs: Why of course. One cannot deny that individuals put work into social media and are unpaid. Their unpaid prosumer labor is a new form of labor that is exploitative. Essentially, people are becoming part of a social media factory, and internet users are a commodity.
Jenkins: I see, I see. May we continue this discussion another time?
Fuchs: Why, of course. There are many other issues I would love to discuss with more time.