Crowdforcing: When What I “Share” Is Yours
Among the many default, background, often unexamined assumptions of the digital revolution is that sharing is good. A major part of the digital revolution in rhetoric is to repurpose existing language in ways that advantage the promoters of one scheme or another. It is no surprise that while it may well have been the case that to earlier generations sharing was, in more or less uncomplicated ways, good, the rhetorical revolution works to dissuade us from considering whether the ethics associated with earlier terminology still apply, telling us instead that if we call it sharing, it must be good.
This is fecund ground for critics of the digital, and rightly so. Despite being called “the sharing economy”—a phrase almost as literally oxymoronic as “giant shrimp,” “living dead” or “civil war”—the companies associated with that practice have very little to do with what we have until now called “sharing.” As a rule, they are much more like digital sharecroppers such as Facebook than their promotional materials tell us, charging rent on the labor and property of individuals while centralized providers make enormous profits on volume (and often enough by offloading inherent employer costs to workers, while making it virtually impossible for them to act as organized labor). Of course there is a continuum; there are “sharing economy” phenomena that are not particularly associated with the extraction of profit from a previously unexploited resource, but there are many others that are specifically designed to do just that.