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Saturday, September 27 • 16:31 - 16:50
"User Generated Perspectives on the Creation of Social Media Advertising Markets: A Q Method Study"

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Background: Research into the complex relationship between Facebook, its users and the advertising industry has centred primarily around provocative concepts such as free labour (Terranova 2004), affective value (Arvidsson & Colleoni 2012), the “prosumer” (Lister et al. 2003), and retrofitted notions of the audience commodity (Fuchs 2011). Despite these significant contributions, as well as the attention the subject receives from media literacy specialists and privacy and surveillance scholars, we have little empirical data that maps viewpoints on the user side of Andrejevic’s (2013) knowledge asymmetry; that is, the extent to which users are aware of their own commodification and, crucially, how they feel about creating value for social media firms in exchange for gratis access to such platforms.

Objective: This paper asks: How do social media users understand, rationalize and attempt to appropriate the role played by their labour and personal information in creating social media advertising markets?  

Methods: In a multi-lingual, international Q method study, we asked more than 300 Facebook users to explain and share their viewpoints about their role in the creation of Facebook’s advertising markets. We complement our Q method analysis with open and closed survey questions to help us map the various viewpoints that users have about their relationship with Facebook.

Results: We identify a typology of three distinctive perspectives on the value of user generated content to social media advertising in which users tend to see Facebook as either: (a) a connectivity and networking utility; (b) an innovative business offering consenting consumers a symbiotic exchange of free access for the creation of advertising markets; or (c) a potentially exploitative monolith that profits from its asymmetrical knowledge relationship with users, characterized by its privileged access to and use of users’ personal information.

Conclusions: We reflect on the differences in and commonalities across these views and contribute to the theorization of new the new media audience by arguing that efforts to frame social media use as labour or commodification have little traction in any of the ways that the users themselves conceive of their activities. In response, we underline a series of normative concerns that do flow directly from our empirical evidence: a lack of critical media literacy about social media; general angst about privacy; and, an overwhelming sense that users have no agency over how social media is managed. We conclude by making a programmatic case for a research program on social media audiences grounded in what we call the sociology of analytics.


Andrejevic, Mark. (2013). InfoGlut. New York: Routledge.

Arvidsson & Colleoni. (2012). Value in informational capitalism and on the Internet. The Information Society 28(3), pp. 135-150.

Fuchs, Christian. (2011). The contemporary world wide web: social medium or new space of accumulation? In Dwayne Winseck & Dal Yong Jin (Eds.), The political economies of media. New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Lister, Martin, Jon Dovey, Seth Giddings, Iain Grant, Kieran Kelly. 2003. New media: A critical introduction. London: Routledge

Terranova, Tiziana. (2004). Network Culture: Politics for the Information Age. London; Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Press.



Sylvia Blake

Simon Fraser University
avatar for Jeremy Shtern

Jeremy Shtern

Associate Professor, Ryerson University
Jeremy Shtern is associate professor and a founding faculty member in the School of Creative Industries at Ryerson University. Dr. Shtern’s research and teaching focuses on transformations in the structure and governance of communication industries and creative work as they reorganize... Read More →

Saturday September 27, 2014 16:31 - 16:50
TRS 1-003 Ted Rogers School of Management

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