The Co-option of Audience Data and User-Generated Content: Empowerment and Exploitation Amidst Algorithms, Produsage and Crowdsourcing

  • Miriam Stehling
  • Lucia Vesnić-Alujević
  • Ana Jorge
  • Lidia Marôpo


This chapter deals with the co-option of audiences’ data as well as user-generated content by institutional powers behind intrusive interfaces. It draws upon longstanding concepts from political economy such as the commodification and exploitation of audiences, as well as digital and free labour, but also discusses these processes in terms of participation, co-creation and audience creativity based on cultural studies-led approaches to audiences. Having identified three major trends in the evolving media landscape, characterized by datafication and intrusions, we specifically examine areas of audiences’ work where new business models of institutional powers center on algorithms and data mining, produsage and crowdsourcing. We argue that processes of co-option constantly oscillate between the empowerment and exploitation of audiences. Looking into the future of audiences in an age of increasing datafication and artificial intelligence, these ambiguities will require increasing attention of academics as well as audiences themselves from critical perspectives.


  1. Abidin, C. (2015). Communicative intimacies: Influencers and perceived interconnectedness. Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology, 8. Retrieved from
  2. Afromeeva, E., Liefbroer, M., & Lilleker, D. (2017). Post-truth: Its meaning and implications for democracy. Political Insight. Political Studies Association. Retrieved from
  3. Albury, K., Burgess, J., Light, B., Race, K., & Wilken, R. (2017). Data cultures of mobile dating hook-up apps: Emerging issues for critical social science research. Big Data & Society, 4(2), 1–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Andén-Papadopoulos, K. (2014). Citizen camera-witnessing: Embodied political dissent in the age of ‘mediated mass self communication’. New Media & Society, 16(5), 753–769.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Andrejevic, M. (2008). Watching television without pity: The productivity of online fans. Television & New Media, 9(1), 24–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Andrejevic, M. (2009). Exploiting YouTube: Contradictions of user-generated labor. In P. Snickars & P. Vonderau (Eds.), The YouTube Reader (pp. 406–423). Stockholm: National Library of Sweden.Google Scholar
  7. Andrejevic, M., Hearn, A., & Kennedy, H. (2015). Cultural studies of data mining: Introduction. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 18(4–5), 379–394.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Andrejevic, M., Banks, J., Campbell, J. E., Couldry, N., Fish, A., Hearn, A., et al. (2014). Participations: Dialogues on the participatory promise of contemporary culture and politics. International Journal of Communication, 8, 1089–1106.Google Scholar
  9. Aytes, A. (2013). Return of the crowds. Mechanical Turk and neoliberal states of exception. In T. Scholz (Ed.), Digital labor. The internet as playground and factory (pp. 79–97). New York and London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  10. Bakioğlu, B. S. (2016). Exposing convergence: YouTube, fan labour, and anxiety of cultural production in Lonelygirl15. Convergence.Google Scholar
  11. Beer, D. (2017). Envisioning the power of data analytics. Information, Communication and Society, 21(3), 465–479.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bouchefra, S. (2016). Citizen journalism between interactivity and professionalism. International Humanities Studies, 3(2), 36–44.Google Scholar
  13. Bruns, A. (2008). Blogs, Wikipedia, second life, and beyond: From production to produsage. New York: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
  14. Bruns, A. (2010). News produsage in a pro-am mediasphere: Why citizen journalism matters. In G. Meikle & G. Redden (Eds.), News online: Transformations and continuities (pp. 132–147). London: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  15. Bruns, A., & Highfield, T. (2012). Blogs, Twitter, and breaking news: The produsage of citizen journalism. In R. Lind (Ed.), Produsing theory in a digital world: The intersection of audiences and production in contemporary theory (pp. 15–32). New York: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
  16. Bucher, T. (2017). The algorithmic imaginary: Exploring the ordinary affects of Facebook algorithms. Information, Communication and Society, 20(1), 30–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Burgess, J., & Green, J. (2009). YouTube: Online video and participatory culture. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  18. Canter, L. (2013). The source, the resource and the collaborator: The role of citizen journalism in local UK newspapers. Journalism, 14(8), 1091–1109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Carpentier, N. (2011a). Media and participation: A site of ideological-democratic struggle. Bristol and Chicago, IL: Intellect.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Carpentier, N. (2011b). New configurations of the audience? The challenges of user-generated content for audience theory and media participation. In V. Nightingale (Ed.), The handbook of media audiences (pp. 190–212). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Denison, R. (2011). Anime fandom and the liminal spaces between fan creativity and piracy. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 14(5), 449–466.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Domp Sadof, K. (2017). Finding a visual voice. The #Euromaidan impact on Ukrainian Instagram users. In U. U. Frömming, S. Köhn, S. Fox, & M. Terry (Eds.), Digital environments. Ethnographic perspectives across global online and offline spaces (pp. 239–250). Bielefeld: Verlag.Google Scholar
  23. Duffy, E. B. (2016). The romance of work: Gender and aspirational labour in the digital culture industries. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 19(4), 441–457.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Duffy, E. B., & Pruchniewska, U. (2017). Gender and self-enterprise in the social media age: A digital double bind. Information, Communication & Society, 20(6), 843–859.Google Scholar
  25. Elias, A. S., & Gill, R. (2017). Beauty surveillance: The digital self-monitoring cultures of neoliberalism. European Journal of Cultural Studies (Article first published online).Google Scholar
  26. Epstein, R., & Robertson, R. E. (2015). The search engine manipulation effect (SEME) and its possible impact on the outcomes of elections. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(33), E4512–E4521.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Fenton, N. (2007). Bridging the mythical divide: Political economy and cultural studies approaches to the analysis of the media. In E. Devereux (Ed.), Media studies: Key issues and debates (pp. 7–31). London: Sage.Google Scholar
  28. Freedom House. (2017). Freedom on the Net 2017. Retrieved from
  29. Fuchs, C. (2017). From digital positivism and administrative big data analytics towards critical digital and social media research! European Journal of Communication, 32(1), 37–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Fuchs, C., & Mosco, V. (Eds.). (2015). Marx and the political economy of the media. Studies in Critical Social Sciences, Volume 79. Leiden: Brill.Google Scholar
  31. Fuchs, C., & Sevignani, S. (2013). What is digital labour? What is digital work? What’s their difference? And why do these questions matter for understanding social media? TripleC, 11(2), 237–293.Google Scholar
  32. Goode, L. (2009). Social news, citizen journalism and democracy. New Media & Society, 11(8), 1287–1305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Guimarães Pereira, A., Benessia, A., & Curvelo, P. (2013). Agency in the Internet of Things. JRC Scientific and Policy Reports. European Commission. Luxembourg: Publication Office of the European Union.Google Scholar
  34. Hearn, A., & Schoenhoff, S. (2016). From celebrity to influencer: Tracing the diffusion of celebrity value across the data stream. In P. D. Marshall & S. Redmond (Eds.), A companion to celebrity (pp. 194–212). Malden, MA and Oxford: Wiley Blackwell.Google Scholar
  35. Holloway, D., & Green, L. (2016). The Internet of Toys. Communication Research and Practice, 2(4), 509–519.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Howard, P., & Kollanyi, B. (2016). Bots, #Strongerin, and #Brexit: Computational propaganda during the UK-EU Referendum (Working Paper 2016.1). Oxford: Project on Computational Propaganda. Retrieved from
  37. Howard, P., Kollanyi, B., & Woolley, S. C. (2016). Bots and automation over Twitter during the Third US Presidential debate: COMPROP data memo 2016.3.Google Scholar
  38. Howe, J. (2006, June 14). The rise of crowdsourcing. Wired. Retrieved from
  39. Jenkins, H. (1992). Textual poachers: Television fans & participatory culture. New York and London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  40. Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence culture: Where old and new media collide. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Jenkins, H., & Carpentier, N. (2013). Theorizing participatory intensities: A conversation about participation and politics. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 19(3), 265–286.Google Scholar
  42. Jenkins, H., Ford, S., & Green, J. (2013). Spreadable media. Creating value and meaning in a networked culture. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Jorge, A., & Nunes, T. (2018, forthcoming). WTF: Digital ambassadors for the young generation? In S. Duvall (Ed.), Celebrity and youth. New York: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
  44. Joss, S., Cook, M., & Dayot, Y. (2017). Smart cities: Towards a new citizenship regime? A discourse analysis of the British Smart City standard. Journal of Urban Technology, 24(4), 29–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Jung, S., & Shim, D. (2014). Social distribution: K-pop fan practices in Indonesia and the ‘Gangnam Style’ phenomenon. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 17(5), 485–501.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Kang, I. (2016). Web 2.0, UGC, and citizen journalism: Revisiting South Korea’s OhmyNews model in the age of social media. Telematics and Informatics, 33, 546–556.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Kitchin, R. (2017). Thinking critically about and researching algorithms. Information, Communication and Society, 20(1), 14–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Kleis Nielsen, R., & Graves, L. (2017). ‘News you don’t believe’: Audience perspectives on fake news. Factsheet by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism with the support of Google and the Digital News Initiative. Retrieved from
  49. Leonard, S. (2005). Progress against the law: Anime and fandom, with the key to the globalization of culture. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 8(3), 281–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Livingstone, S., Haddon, L., Görzig, A., & Ólafsson, K. (2011). Risks and safety on the internet: The perspective of European children: Full findings and policy implications from the EU Kids Online survey of 9–16 year olds and their parents in 25 countries. Deliverable D4. London: EU Kids Online, London School of Economics and Political Science.Google Scholar
  51. MacKenzie, A. (2006). Cutting code: Software and sociality. Oxford: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
  52. Manovich, L. (2013). Software takes command. New York: Bloomsbury Academic.Google Scholar
  53. Martens, M. (2011). Transmedia teens: Affect, immaterial labor, and user-generated content. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 17(1), 49–68.Google Scholar
  54. Marwick, A. (2015). You may know me from YouTube: (Micro-)celebrity in social media. In S. Redmond & P. D. Marshall (Eds.), A companion to celebrity (pp. 333–349). Chichester: Wiley Blackwell.Google Scholar
  55. Milner, R. M. (2009). Working for the text: Fan labor and the new organization. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 12(5), 491–508.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Mosco, V. (2009). The political economy of communication (2nd ed.). London: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Napoli, P. M. (2013, May 5). The algorithm as institution: Toward a theoretical framework for automated media production and consumption. Fordham University Schools of Business Research Paper. Retrieved from
  58. Ohlheiser, A. (2016, November 18). This is how Facebook’s fake-news writers make money. Washington Post. Retrieved from
  59. Pariser, E. (2011). The filter bubble: What the internet is hiding from you. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
  60. Plantin, J. C., Lagoze, C., Edwards, P., & Sandvig, C. (2016). Infrastructure studies meet platform studies in the age of Google and Facebook. New Media and Society (Online first).Google Scholar
  61. Sandoval, M., & Fuchs, C. (2010). Towards a critical theory of alternative media. Telematics and Informatics, 27(2), 141–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Senft, T. M. (2008). Camgirls: Celebrity and community in the age of social networks. New York: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
  63. Singer, J. B., Domingo, D., Heinonen, A., Hermida, A., Paulussen, S., Quandt, T., et al. (2011). Participatory journalism: Guarding gates at online newspapers. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Smythe, D. W. (1960). On the political economy of communications. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 37(4), 563–572.Google Scholar
  65. Smythe, D. W. (2006). On the audience commodity and its work. In M. G. Durham & D. M. Kellner (Eds.), Media and cultural studies. Key works (Rev. edn., pp. 230–256). Malden, MA, Oxford and Carlton: Blackwell Publishing.Google Scholar
  66. Stone, P., Brooks, R., Brynjolfsson, E., Calo, R., Etzioni, O., Hager, G. et al. (2016). Artificial Intelligence and life in 2030. One hundred year study on Artificial Intelligence: Report of the 2015–2016 Study Panel. Stanford, CA: Stanford University. Retrieved from
  67. Suárez-Villegas, J. C. (2017). El periodismo ciudadano. Análisis de opiniones de periodistas profesionales de España, Italia y Bélgica. Convergencia, 74, 91–111.Google Scholar
  68. Subramanian, S. (2017). Inside the Macedonian fake news concept. Wired, 15. Retrieved from
  69. Sunstein, C. (2009). 2.0. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  70. Taffel, S. A. (2015). Anti-social | Asocial | Associated: Mapping the social in social media. Global Media Journal: Australian Edition, 9(1). Retrieved from
  71. Terranova, T. (2004). Network culture. Politics for the information age. London and Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Press.Google Scholar
  72. Terranova, T. (2013). Free labour. In T. Scholz (Ed.), Digital labor. The internet as playground and factory (pp. 33–57). New York and London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  73. Thomas, P. N. (2014). Development communication and social change in historical context. In K. G. Wilkins, T. Thomas, & R. Obgregon (Eds.), The handbook of development communication and social change (pp. 7–19). Malden, MA, Oxford and Chichester: Wiley.Google Scholar
  74. van Dijck, J. (2009). Users like you? Theorizing agency in user-generated content. Media, Culture & Society, 31(1), 41–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. van Dijck, J. (2014). Datafication, dataism and dataveillance: Big data between scientific paradigm and ideology. Surveillance & Society, 12(2), 197–208.Google Scholar
  76. Vellar, A. (2012). The recording industry and grassroots marketing: From street teams to flash mobs. Participations Journal of Audience & Reception Studies, 9(1), 95–118.Google Scholar
  77. Vesnić-Alujević, L., & Murru, M. F. (2016). Digital audiences’ disempowerment: Participation or free labour. Participations. Journal of Audience & Reception Studies, 13(1), 422–430.Google Scholar
  78. Vyas, D., Kröner, A., & Nijholt, A. (2016). From mundane to smart: Exploring interactions with ‘smart’ design objects. International Journal of Mobile Human Computer Interaction, 8(1), 63–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Wall, M. (2005). Blogs of war. Weblogs as news. Journalism, 6(2), 153–172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Wasko, J., Murdock, G., & Sousa, H. (Eds.). (2014). The handbook of political economy of communication. Malden, MA, Oxford and Chichester: Wiley Blackwell.Google Scholar
  81. Williamson, B. (2015). Governing software: Networks, databases and algorithmic power in the digital governance of public education. Learning, Media and Technology, 40(1), 83–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Woolley, S., & Howard, P. (Eds.). (2017). Computational propaganda worldwide: Executive summary (Working Paper 2017.11). Oxford: Project on Computational Propaganda.Google Scholar
  83. Woolley, S., & Howard, P. N. (2016). Automation, algorithms, and politics. Political communication, computational propaganda, and autonomous agents. Introduction. International Journal of Communication, 10(9). Retrieved from

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Miriam Stehling
    • 1
  • Lucia Vesnić-Alujević
    • 2
  • Ana Jorge
    • 3
  • Lidia Marôpo
    • 4
  1. 1.Institut für Medienwissenschaft, University of TuebingenTuebingenGermany
  2. 2.Zagreb UniversityZagrebCroatia
  3. 3.Universidade Católica Portuguesa, FCH - Palma de CimaLisbonPortugal
  4. 4.Instituto Politécnico de Setúbal, Campus do IPS, EstefanilhaSetúbalPortugal

Personalised recommendations