Free Labor: Injustice or Equitable Exchange?

Photo courtesy of Pexel stock photos

In her article, “Free Labor: Producing Culture for the Digital Economy,” Tiziana Terranova examines the role of unpaid contributors to the economy of the digital world. Terranova explores the value that contributors receive for their contributions, as well as whether or not free labor is an exploitation of human resources. Lindsay Palmer wrote an article titled, “’I reporting’ an Uprising: CNN and Citizen Journalism in Network Culture,” which also examines free labor and gives a response to Terranova’s article. There are many points of agreement between the two authors, as well as some disagreements.

In her initial analysis, Terranova points out that the lines are sometimes blurred between when individuals are consuming digital resources and when they are contributing to them, “The pervasiveness of such production questions the legitimacy of a fixed distinction between production and consumption, labor and culture.” (Terranova, 35). In some forums it is very clear that individuals are either contributing or consuming, however, in cases like amazon purchasing, individuals can be both using a service and providing data for companies simultaneously. This is the unspoken agreement of free labor that we submit ourselves to when we partake in the luxury of online shopping. That data can then be used to find trends, to create marketing, and ultimately to make sure that companies are tempting us in ways that are most likely to make us give in to further consumerism.

Palmer definitely conveys that the relationship between free laborers and companies is mutually beneficial, “my case study ultimately reveals that citizen journalism is less a story of exploitation and more a story of negotiation, as hegemonic journalistic representations of world events ultimately unfold within the increasingly disruptive informational milieu that is the product of network culture.” (Palmer, 367). Terranova also mentions the impact of a networked culture, “the self-organizing, collective intelligence of cybercultural thought captures the existence of net-worked immaterial labor.” (Terranova, 44). Both authors see free labor as a result of a more connected public, but Terranova is less convinced that the benefits are equal to the contributions.

Both authors agree that free labor has exponentially increased companies abilities to expand quickly in the online market. Terronova says, “the best way to stay visible and thriving on the Web, is to turn your site into a space that is not only accessed, but somehow built by its users.” (Terranova, 49). Palmer points out that free labor, including citizen journalism, is a way for some markets to engage consumers. “CNN’s inclusive rhetoric—“let’s cover the globe together”—gave the impression that the journalistic endeavor to map the world was now a collaboration between CNN employees and the network’s global public.” (Palmer, 368). Involving citizens can add a sense of ownership and trustworthiness, whether true or only perceived.

Overall, I found Palmer’s article to be more compelling and convincing, because she seems to have a less cynical view of citizen contributions. The internet is a world that we choose to be a part of, it is not required of us. The “free” labor we do is actually, in my opinion, a pretty fair trade for the vast conveniences and networking made available in exchange.


Terranova, Tiziana. “Free Labor: PRODUCING CULTURE FOR THE DIGITAL ECONOMY.” Social Text 18.2 63 (2000): 33-58. Web. Retrieved from

Palmer, Lindsay. “”iReporting” an Uprising: CNN and Citizen Journalism in Network Culture” Television & New Media 14.5 (2013): 367-85. Web. Retrieved from


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: