Platform Capitalism

Platform capitalism creates further social divide and inequality in our society, particularly within issues of information distribution, privacy and algorithmic bias. Platform capitalism is disproportional, negatively impacts the poorer subsets of our populations – especially people of minority backgrounds – and is manipulated by corporations and people in positions of power. As a result of this, there are a number of significant negative consequences for the public using social media platforms. Digital media scholars have realised the wide, negative impact that platform capitalism has in our digital age. 

Starting with the Lugenpresse in Nazi Germany, the concept of “Fake News,” is not a new concept within our society, however, platform capitalism has allowed for a widespread, global reach of information disinformation, much of it deliberate. Graham Miekle’s “History of Social Media”, argues platform capitalism is the primary business of social media, [2016]. The primary purpose of these platforms is to make revenue from its users, the how of which, is not restricted enough allowing for the users to be manipulated. The 2016 U.S. presidential election saw a Russian troll farm use Facebook as a campaigning tool, to spread information disinformation and fake news about the democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, which allowed for Donald Trump to win the election. A negative consequence of platform capitalism is corporatisation of information; Facebook has repeatedly allowed false information to be marketed on its platforms, if the company deems that it makes enough profit. This furthers the class divide as the rich and well connected are able to purchase public information and influence important decision making. Platform capitalism has allowed for companies like Facebook, to profit from the spread of information disinformation, and public mistrust in the media has risen as a result. Platform capitalism has allowed for the wealthy to purchase public opinion, and manipulate it for the gain of a private company.

Privacy concerns weigh heavily on social media users because of public mistrust of the power that these platforms have. Instagram, Twitter and Facebook have all been featured in the media because they sell their users’ privacy data. Personal information of users is sold by these platforms to ad marketing services, private corporations and research firms. Platform capitalism allows for the mass purchase of consumers’ private data, negatively impacting the poor, as it provides financial information to companies. Facebook’s ad marketing is a significant function of its revenue stream, targeting users through their personal information to curate products and services; manipulating users’ private data again for the benefit of profit revenue. N. Srnieck discusses how these platforms grow through large data extractions of its users, demonstrating the significant influence that the companies have, and the ways in which they misuse this power. Mass data surveillance has occured through the sharing of users information as Facebook learns it users habits, spending and other personal information, tracking it over a substantiated period of time for its profit stream. Private companies also benefit from this platform capitalism as it can learn your private information, which creates a tiered system of the powerful being able to purchase information without the users consent. Purchasing hierarchies demonstrate public accessibility and how these platforms prey on the poorer subsets and minorities of the population to manipulate them. Platform capitalism has significantly allowed for companies to manipulate purchasing power and public opinion through its ad marketing, and where it chooses to sell its customer information to.

Finally, algorithmic bias is another negative consequence resulting from platform capitalism. These companies can censor information, change public opinion through how it operates its algorithms, and purposefully set products that give Facebook a higher commission on sales to the top of customers search histories. These platforms have a significant level of power over their users. Algorithmic bias allows for companies to target sections of the population for marketing. Organizations like Family First have used Facebook to promote negative stereotypes against the LGBTQIA+ community, Facebook’s algorithms are taught to not see targeting of minorities as a barrier to profit. Hate speech on Facebook, through ad marketing and targeted algorithms, has allowed for companies and powerful individuals to share negative thoughts and opinions about minorities, and allowed users to share this information with their networks. Platform capitalism has yet again risen to prioritise profit over public safety, negatively impacting its users. Algorithmic bias teaches us the true power of these platforms, as they are able to create digital filter bubbles so that we don’t see contrasting opinions, with the purpose of manipulating users to spend longer on their platform. By controlling the information that people see, Facebook is able to control what news media people see, creating echo chambers and allowing far right activist groups to gain a stronghold over their users. We see here just the extent of control that Facebook has over its users; it is able to influence public opinion and individual user’s views.

Overall, media scholars are correct to critique the influence Facebook has over its users. Platform capitalism has created significant issues, especially around the areas of information misinformation, privacy and algorithmic bias. Facebook has allowed for minorities’ to be targeted by hate groups, public opinion to be influenced, and for mass data surveillance and collection of information for the benefit of its revenue stream. Platform capitalism demonstrates the negative impact that these corporations have over us and our views and how easily we are able to be manipulated.

Sophie Simons
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