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Social Media/Digital Capitalism



Social Media/Digital Capitalism

Do you ever wonder how social media platforms are still free? I will try and break it down for you, although the process of this industry is extremely complex. Hopefully, this will be useful to add to your knowledge bank, but you can always build it more with your own research. This quarter I am taking a communications class that has attempted to break this all down in a span of 10 weeks. So this will only scratch the surface of all the things you'll need to know to make it make sense.  


Basically, social media platforms are able to remain free for users because they operate as a dual product marketplace. This means that these platforms are profiting in two main ways: 1. They sell content to audiences. So for example Instagram is a platform that allows users to post and share content, and facilitate connections between individuals and companies. In this case, we are not being sold the content for a monetary value, but you’ll see how we end up selling our attention. 

AND 2.They sell advertisement space to companies for their users to see. Using the same example, Instagram also is a platform for companies to try and sell their products to audiences. Companies create visual advertisements (pictures and videos) to camouflage in with posts from those you follow, tricking their users to make them money. Other platforms do the exact same thing. Take Google, the world's #1 online search engine. Nowadays when you search for something, the first 5 (or so) results are paid advertisements, that Google actually makes money if you click. Social media and the internet did not always operate this way. At first, it was created as an online social space for users to connect. As the business models developed under capitalism’s influence, they've incorporated ways to make profits off our free time and attention. 


So you may be wondering, how do they navigate this effectively? Well here’s where the surveillance part of digital capitalism comes into play. Somewhere hidden in social media’s long privacy policy and user agreements (that nobody ever reads), they state the ways in which they track and extract data from our usage and time spent on the apps. These mysterious algorithms know what type of content you will interact with, based on all the data they collect. They use this data to personalize the ads they show on your feed. So for example, say you use your Twitter account as a student-athlete. On this account, you follow other teammates, coaches, fans, athletic influencer accounts, your favorite sports teams, and workout accounts. Twitter will show you ads from gyms/fitness centers, sports apparel stores such as Nike or Adidas, and maybe even schools with athletic platforms that use this platform. Your ad experience is customized to your personal affinities. 

Right now there aren’t a lot of policies (if any) to regulate these Big Tech industries. Where do we draw the line of invasion of privacy? Although we agree to these terms and conditions, we have no position to negotiate them. And after all if we don’t accept them, we will not be able to utilize these platforms that have evolved into the fastest way to spread information, news, culture, and ideas. Take this information into account as you continue to use these social media platforms. Do the pros outweigh the cons? The first and most important thing you can do is become informed. 

I grew up on the east coast in Maryland. Pursuing my education on the west coast. This is my 3rd yr studying in college but my first year as a transfer student to UCSD. I decided to study ethnic studies as my minor here.
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