Is User-generated Content Free Labor?

Name, PID, Week 4, August 1, 2016.

Gone are the days when journalists wouldactually fully rely on going to the field to collect news stories.Media houses made large budgetary provisions for the mobility oftheir journalists so that they could travel everywhere to capturenewsworthy stories. Companies invested in informers who would tip offjournalists whenever something newsworthy was happening in theneighborhoods. However, with the advent of technology it seems mediahouses no longer have to pay informers for tip offs. The discussionon the use of user-generated content will show that it is free labor,despite being undocumented.

Nowadays it is an acceptable practice forpeople to receive trending news on social media before media housescan even lay their hands on the details. Some journalists- whom I donot want to call lazy- will report on stories they saw on socialmedia without bothering to countercheck the facts. This wholedevelopment raises questions on the legality of using social mediacontent by media houses.

In my own honest opinion, user-generatedcontent is a form of free undocumented labor. Media houses have madea kill courtesy of user-generated content. What is sad though is thatthe users who generate the content have nothing to show for it. Mostof the trending topics on our media houses are a reflection of whatis trending online. I could give several examples of some socialmedia generated stories that created frenzy in the mainstream media.Remember the debate about the dress that was blue or gold dependingon the individual? Most recently, the courteous grandmother who usedpolite language to make a Google search also took the mainstreammedia by storm.

The aforementioned examples have taken themedia by storm. However, the generators of such content are barelyrecognized. I for one do not remember the designer of the dress thathad everyone confused about its color. What I know for sure is thatthe ratings of some media houses went a notch higher because of thedebate created by the dress. By the fact that the generators ofsocial media content that finds its way to the mainstream media arenot recognized for it, is a form of exploitation. In the view of KarlMax, exploitation is when someone uses another’s idea to their ownbenefit without channeling some of the gains back to the source ofthe idea. That is exactly what the media does when it usesuser-generated content.

The use of user-generated content should beregulated to prevent further exploitation by the mainstream media.The generators of such content should be compensated for theircontribution to the success of the mainstream media. However, it willbe tricky to identify the origin of such content owing to how fastcontent in social media could go viral. It is for this reason thatsocial media companies should device a means of locating the originof user-generated content. For instance, if it is a picture causing astir on both social media and the mainstream media, these companiesshould be able to device a means that will identify the electronicdevice that uploaded the photo. Once identified, the media houseswill be liable to pay the developer of such content.

In conclusion, media houses are currentlyenjoying a free supply of labor in terms of user-generated content.Media houses have exploited user-generated content for their ownpersonal gain while the creators of such content do get even a dimeof it. It would therefore be prudent if the use of user-generatedcontent were regulated.