Research Project | 2023
Transmedia artist S()fia Braga takes part in the AMRO Research Lab 2023 organised by the net culture association servus.at. Within this context, her research explores the intricate control dynamics facilitated by the operational structures of centralised social media platforms, as well as their sociological implications. Specifically, she focuses on topics such as participatory control –exploring the concept of Interveillance,– emerging forms of free labor, and strategies to carefully balance oneself into visibility and deception while traversing the "Dark Forest of the Internet." The outputs of the research include the article "Shipwrecked in the Dark Forest" for the Versorgerin, the podcast episode "Hustle till Burn it" on Radio Fro, the workshop "A guide to Disruptive UGC" and the diagram poster Platform Workshippers.
Through the fusion of the pragmatic compass diagram and the esoteric Tree of Life imagery derived from Kabbalah, Platform Workshippers analyses the evolving work trends within the domain of social media.
The neologism Workshippers, a combination of the words “worship” and “work,” emphasizes how within the platform, the boundary between one’s private and work life becomes completely blurred, triggering new forms of exploitation and precariousness.
The majority of users on TikTok are characterized as lurkers who primarily engage in the passive consumption of videos and content without actively contributing. At first glance, it may appear that lurkers have no direct impact on the economic dynamics of the TikTok ecosystem. However, it becomes evident that they play a fundamental and indispensable role, as their sole engagement through content consumption is what sustains the platform and perpetuates its operation.
The creator is a user who professionally generates content, distinguishing themselves from the Lurker and Prosumer by their production that commences their journey as TikTok producers, gradually expanding their presence beyond the confines of the platform. This expansion leads to the development of their personal brand and business endeavors that extend to other commercial domains.
The term Prosumer is a neologism coined by blending the words producer and consumer, signifying a user who actively contributes content to a platform while also consuming from it. It typically marks the initial phase on the path toward becoming a full-fledged Creator.
Prosumers, as well as Sleepfluencers and Factory Tokers, capitalize on their everyday activities. An exemplar of this is the recent Tube Girl Trend where user @sabrinabahsoon created TikTok videos showcasing her cringe dance routines in the subway, effectively utilizing her commute time. This serves as a prime illustration of the conversion of personal moments into monetizable experiences. This mindset aligns with a broader philosophy that champions maximal productivity, leaving no room for idle moments, as each opportunity can be leveraged to pursue fame and financial gain.
The emergence of Sleepfluencers finds its origins in platforms like Twitch, where there exists a category notably titled I'm Only Sleeping. In this category, individuals broadcast themselves while in a state of slumber, constituting one of the highest forms of capitalization upon routine activities. This phenomenon bears a profound connection with the neoliberal notion of monetizing virtually every facet of our existence, including the act of sleeping, aligning itself with the tenets of surveillance capitalism.
Online users, through their donations, possess the capability to remotely trigger a series of auditory or mechanical events within the Sleepfluencer’s sleeping environment. These actions range from dousing the person with water to generating loud flashes or alarms, thus contributing to the broader trend of online streaming marathons.
In this context, content creators subject themselves to continuous online presence for up to 60 consecutive days, often enduring physical and mental exhaustion to maintain their streaming activities. This endurance is particularly rewarding in terms of garnering visibility on the platform and adheres to a distinct gamification logic for content creators – the more one streams and garners viewership, the greater the array of special features one can unlock on TikTok LIVE.
A distinct cohort of users engaging in a unique practice of live-streaming directly from their workplace environments. The majority of individuals within this group constitute factory workers who seek to alleviate the alienation associated with the monotonous and repetitive nature of their work routines by concurrently undertaking additional activities. These workers broadcast themselves online for extended durations, providing insights into their ongoing tasks and engaging in conversations with their viewers, thereby engendering a sense of collective endeavor, or in other words, working together. This phenomenon can be characterized as a manifestation of body doubling, a strategic approach that heightens productivity by eliminating external distractions during work.
However, beneath this veneer of shared engagement lies a secondary layer of extraction, as the process often serves as an additional source of income for the worker. Consequently this endeavor takes on a meta-work dimension, as the act of streaming their daily labor not only allows them to connect with viewers but also facilitates the accumulation of supplementary income through viewer donations.
Human Like Generator
Streaming Factories, predominantly observed in China, consist of organized facilities wherein numerous content producers engage in streaming activities structured akin to production line setups. Streamers receive a comparatively smaller share of the revenue generated from online monetization, as they collaborate with an overseeing organization responsible for streamer coordination.
A specific subset of this overarching phenomenon is represented by what we shall term Human-Like Generators, who engage in activities such as watching and liking content generated by other paying users. This strategic action aims to amplify the viewership figures of the latter group.
The genesis of this practice can be traced back to online marketing strategies that aim to manipulate and enhance the visibility afforded by TikTok algorithms for specific products. In its most recent iteration, this practice extends to encompass the marketing of individual user profiles as commodities.
Exploited beggars are often engaged in online begging activities that are live-streamed on TikTok with the intention of soliciting donations from other users. Exploitative begging necessitates the involvement of intermediaries, Middlemen, between TikTok and the Beggars. These intermediaries play a role in supplying smartphones and internet connectivity to families living in regions of extreme distress and need.
In this operation, both TikTok and its intermediaries claim a substantial portion of the donations collected, amounting to 70%. It is interesting to observe the practice of equipping these families with UK SIM cards to enhance their visibility within the UK—a nation that, statistically, yields a higher volume of donations.
NPC streaming is a TikTok livestream trend in which the streamer acts like a videogame Non-Player-Character, performing repetitive actions, which are augmented by special responses when viewers donate. This concept traces its origins back to previous streaming platforms like Twitch and has been recently transposed into the TikTok environment. The core notion underpinning this practice is the exchange of monetary contributions for corresponding reactions from NPCs, giving users a sense of empowerment and control over the streamer.
This transition appears to reflect a shift in prevailing trends. User-generated Content retains its inherent connection to reality, yet the emerging trend, heading into 2024, appears to pivot towards mechanical and non-human approaches, progressively diminishing the relatability of the content to everyday life. This departure from the realm of daily reality becomes particularly pronounced when content creators attain substantial wealth, rendering their experiences less relatable to the average user. Consequently, there is a growing interest in non-human perspectives and actions, from characters of marginal and diminished significance, such as those of NPCs.
UGC Creators produce advertisements in the format of User Generated Content, thereby departing from conventional marketing strategies and imparting authentic, relatable messages, reminiscent of counsel from a friend. The overarching objective is to execute subtle product placement within undisclosed contexts to render it more memeable, relatable, and, ultimately, viral.
Presently, major companies like Windows and McDonald’s base their marketing campaigns predominantly on UGC principles, accompanied by the associated aesthetics and content styles that offer cost-efficiency. This trend aligns with broader patterns of labor exploitation and the erosion of workers’ rights.
This archetype subscribes to a mindset rooted in positive thinking and hyperproductivity as a means to attain their objectives and, in parallel, engage in monetization efforts. These individuals specialize in the creation of videos wherein they offer personal advice geared toward achieving greater success. Their methodology predominantly revolves around the application of Manifestation techniques, which encompass the cultivation of a positive thinking orientation and of a proactive mindset. These techniques assist individuals in the realization of their life goals, thereby merging elements of self-fulfilling prophecy and self-suggestion.
Their dominant monetization strategy focuses on User Generated Content (UGC) and affiliation marketing, alongside the sale of their own online courses. This practice, thus, situates them within the broader category of UGC Creators, albeit distinguished by the additional layer of personality cult that defines their approach.