On Tuesday, Dr. Miguel Juárez asked the following question on his Facebook page: “What would Facebook do without us giving them their content for free?” It was an intriguing question which got me thinking about how social media platforms depend on the free content from users who give it to them and in turn allows them to sell it and make money from it. Think about it, without your posts; Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the other platforms would be nothing. They’d be worth absolutely zero. As I thought about this, I soon realized that users do not understand the meaning of intellectual property. People do not understand the value of creativity nor do they understand that without content, social media sites would be in trouble.
Intellectual property is simply the expression of an idea. It can be expressed in words, through imagery, via paper or digitally and/or in a form or fashion that makes the idea understood by others. Intellectual property has value. Each of us creates intellectual property when we express ourselves, even in our short Facebook posts and even one-line messages on Twitter.
Our posts on Facebook and other social media outlets is work we give for free to Facebook and the others. But the relationship is not symbiotic. Facebook does not pay us for our work, instead Facebook misuses our participation by selling us to advertisers who then use it themselves to make money.
What Facebook and other social media platforms are doing is using us as free workers and instead of acknowledging our value, Facebook and the others continue to abuse us by selling us, as a commodity to advertisers.
Facebook users are both slaves to be sold, bartered or traded for Facebook’s bottom line. We are worse than ill-paid workers in low income countries, we give our content away for free without really knowing how it is used.
To be clear, we do this to ourselves.
Yesterday, it was revealed that Facebook actively sells user access to specific companies, even though the company denies doing so. The revelation comes from internal Facebook documents released by the UK Parliament to the public detailing how Facebook executives negotiate deals with specific companies granting them access to user data. Even then, according to the documents, Facebook limits access to companies if they are perceived to be creating competing services.
(Read the documents here.)
Many people have long known that Facebook was selling our content and user behavior to others. Now with the released documents, we have evidence that this practice is occurring due to Facebook’s own internal documents released by the UK Parliament. In contrast, a California court has refused to release the same documents and they remain sealed there. In the UK Parliament case, MP Damian Collins ordered his sergeant-of-arms to retrieve the documents and he then posted them on parliament’s website.
On one hand, a California court is protecting Facebook by sealing the documents and withholding them from the public, and on the other hand they have been released by the European government where personal information has stronger protection laws than the United States. The release of the Facebook documents exposes Facebook’s duplicity.
The bottom line is that Facebook uses us as slave labor to make money, but they don’t stop there – the platform also sells our personal data to bolster its bottom line.
We’re just useful idiots for Facebook.