Peter M. Gunn in the Huffington, with the timely title, “Time to Socialize Social Media”

“Attempts to keep the government “out of the Internet” are not made to preserve the freedom of the American people; they are made to advance the neoliberal project. Only this time, there’s not even a state to dismantle.” – here [hyperlink to Quartz in original]

The argument runs that public institutions offer more and better protection than private companies. Electronic communications – including social media – ought to belong to society, be regulated by law, as a public good serving the interests of private individuals. Peter Gunn compares the regulatory requirements regarding security of information between the Post Office and Facebook, Twitter, finding those placed on privately owned corporations more readily negotiated, managed and sidestepped. A failure of social responsibility built into the business models of big social media.

In the first paragraph of the article, this observational aside: users of social media are the ‘product’ of corporate social media. Which may be true of exchange value, how private data including contact details, facial characteristics, online activity, connectivity, is ‘sold’ or ‘leased’ to advertisers and marketing interests. But is another instance of the alienation of labour. Since the labour that goes into producing the ‘user’ – who is the sum of all data, or graph – is rendered invisible.

Semiocapitalism, says Guattari, outsources, abstracts, extracts value from data manipulation, but there remains a material basis, whether it’s the workers in parts of the world distant from the centres of capital accumulation or it’s the user producing data for corporate social media to sell. To call the latter the product is to buy into the same way of thinking that manages to serve and exploit.

My project with Little Elephant is to make the user’s labour visible even as he or she produces himself or herself. This labour is the little elephant everywhere which big data ignores and needs to ignore to continue the sleight of hand whereby those served are exploited. This labour is expressive or creative.

Online mediatised identity is constructed. The data that goes in to building the ‘user’ belongs to the user as source of labour or ‘little elephant.’ For the labour to be valued the act by which it is generated needs to be made visible.

I would therefore prefer to address social media’s social responsibility in a socialising of online media that measures its success less in terms of ownership than by how well it serves the private interests of individuals and how adequate its mechanisms are to this task. I think it is more a question of expression than ownership.

Public ownership of electronic communications and online social media perpetuates the private/public divide, which is exactly that from which corporate social media profit, in claims that the private actions of individuals are its products, enabling them to extract value from those actions and that labour by giving the appearance that this is a public service and one in the public good.