The term “Using or being used” is a paradox question in web 2.0 era. The subject of this question is users of social media. Are social media users are controllers or under control by social media companies? Indeed, we can see social media as empowering in which users can create the content or we can see it as a tool for internet companies to utilize the value of users. Instead of phrasing this question as binary opposites, work by Sam Hinton and Larissa Hjorth（2013），have attempted to give a rounded analysis about the role of users in social media standing at a neutral point. As Sam Hinton and Larissa Hjorth observes:
The tensions between control and freedom should not be treated as absolute position where you take a side and fight it out to the end. Instead, these represent extreme ends of a spectrum in which complex interactions play out.(Hinton, S., & Hjorth, L. 2013,p.30)
The theory and empirical evidence
The authors of understanding social media analyze two roles of users in web 2.0 respectively, users as controllers and users as being controlled(or used).
1.users as controllers
Sam Hinton and Larissa Hjorth(2013) first point out the central idea of this standpoint is that the internet overwhelms old logics of control and power(top-down) and the majority people nowadays can produce or control media. Because the internet decentralised content production and media control as well. This leads some scholars think the internet is democratising and emancipatory because it empowers individuals.
Then they illustrate the long history of empowerment narrative and highlighted these ideas are always based in western context. One of influential works they demonstrated is the declaration presented by John Perry Barlow—A Cyberspace Independence Declaration(1996).
Sam Hinton and Larissa Hjoth(2013) also state that after two decades, the emergence of web 2.0 and mobile internet changed the demography of internet users, and there are still some ideas focus on social media empower the individual. In this new environment, social media enable individuals with expanded access to information. Search engines(Google)provide an quick access to many questions, SNSs creates new forms of intimacy and relationships, individuals can create their own content on YouTube and then share them with millions of strange people who sit in front of their screens.
Furthermore, social media has played an increasingly crucial role in political world. The authors put forward the Arab Spring as an example. The Arab Spring was a revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests (both non-violent and violent), riots, and civil war in the Arab world that began on 18 December 2010 in Tunisia with the Tunisian Revolution, and spread throughout the countries of the Arab League and its surroundings. (Wikipedia,2015)
Social media indeed played a part in the Arab Spring. Most people in other regions didn’t know there are many uprising revolutions happened in Middle East in the past 20 years before 2010,but the dictators succeed in concealing human voice. But under web2.0 environment, the dictators can’t anticipate their most powerful enemy—social media platforms which give people freedom, transparency, criticism right and creates an age of social collective.
2.Users as being controlled
Cast in the opposite light, the authors point out how social media establishes new power models while undermining existing ones.Frankly speaking,the original concern of digital technologies was increasing centralized management.The evolution of digital computers is a response to the need for increased control in industrialized countries.(Beniger,1986).The control of social media manifests in several aspects;
- Dependency-It is not surprising to see a person(especially a teenager)in this digital era feeling extremely disappointed and lost without access to SNSs. This then makes social media companies control individuals easily.
- Privacy-every users’ browse records, location, social nets and self-information can be collected and recorded easily in social media sites especially when we compare the situation with traditional media forms(television, broadcast).The spying on individual’s information indeed compromises every single user’s privacy.
- Commercialization of private data(or information)-a person’s online information about oneself and his or her online habits are normally collected and repurposed by internet companies. In this light, all data created by users is valuable for companies to target their audience efficiently and improve their businesses.
More than that, they use Wendy Chun’s views to illustrate the paradox between control and freedom. Chun(2006) states that the meaning of freedom has gradually been shifted to incorporate control as an implicit precondition. In other words, this two things are intertwined. SNSs in fact offers users a platform with many services to control their own online environment. Every user has “MY OWN SPACE” on a social media platform, the authors highlight the term “platform” in their excellent book to draw readers’ attention about thinking about web 2.0 in a new way, as Tarleton Gillespie(2010) suggests that a platform is a progressive and egalitarian arrangement.For instance, every user on Facebook can organize his or her own page on which users can govern their contact lists and hide away the information by contacts they don’t want to see, in this space, users are the center of everything and gain enough freedom. The authors mention the 10 principles of Facebook to prove how much freedom social media provide to users.
Meanwhile, social media platforms play another role except empowering users. By thinking deeply about why we can use Google for free, we can get a better understanding about the users’ role as being controlled.What lies behind the simple search page of Google?The answer is control.Every single search record can be collected by Google company,which can be the main revenue source of Google.What advertisers purchase won’t appear in the actual search results,users can only check them out in strategic places.The strategy of Google exactly reflects a fundamental web2.0 business model is that users are actually the source of value.(Hinton,S.,&Hjorth,L.2013,p29)
In conclusion,the authors state that most often social media is both controlling and empowering at the same time,in an uneasy relationship where a certain amount of exploitation is negotiated as the price for a certain amount of empowerment.(Hinton,S.,&Hjorth,L.2013)
The theory and my online campaign
My online campaign is storylands-Xinjiang ,which is aim to show many aspects of the society of Xinjiang and encouraging more travellers to explore this mysterious land and share their own experiences.
As the initiator of this campaign, the theory of using or being used served as a important part of my promotion actions and this two roles of users are intertwined in my campaign promotion.
- Me as controller-For promoting my own campaign, I set the profile of accounts or pages for my campaign,including basic information,web design(home page image),etc.I can organize everything on my own pages,from posting content in different forms to targeting audience by using hashtags (Weibo, Instagram).
And the social media management tool Hootsuite enabled me to do my promotion efficiently and systematically.
- My audience as controllers-My audience has many choices on my pages,to follow my online campaign,to just have a view,to thumb up or share the content to their own social media platforms.They can even participate in my campaign by creating their own content about my theme. By adding hashtags in their posts,they can engage with my campaign easily.
- My audience as being used-the viewing records can be collected by some social media management tools such as hootsuite and this function is also available on Weibo (Chinese version of Twitter).All these data helped me adjust my promotion plan and target my audience precisely.In this light, my audience group plays a role as being used and data and content created by them is indeed a source of value for me.
In conclusion,as the authors(2013) state that the tensions between control and freedom are not a question with two absolute position and in real social media practice, control and freedom always interact with each other.
Beniger, J.R.(1986) The Control Revolution: Technological and Economic Origins of the Information Society . Cambridge,MA: Harvard University Press
Chun,W(2006) Control and Freedom.Cambridge,MA:MIT Press
Hinton, S., & Hjorth, L. (2013). Introduction to Social Media Understanding Social Media (pp. 21-31). London: SAGE Publications Ltd.
Brown,H.,Guskin,E.,Mitchell,A.(2012,November 28).The Role of Social Media in the Arab Spring Retrieved from http://www.journalism.org/2012/11/28/role-social-media-arab-uprisings/