Social Media’s Role in Capitalism

Image by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pixabay

If you’re thinking, yeah, advertising. Nope. If you’re thinking influencers, again, no, but also sort of. If you’re think it must then be the creator economy, in part, but also not entirely. The role of social media in capitalism, in the market economy is ideation and ideas as well as macrocultural transmission.

Sounds lofty perhaps? It comes down to the concept of the division of labour. This is the main social technology that human societies adapt to our environments, thus it has a direct impact on our social structures and cultural superstructures. Social media are a communications technology. Marx, Weber and Durkheim, all leading sociologists agreed that communications technologies play a vital role in transmitting ideas and ideations for societal development, including capitalism and thus, the division of labour.

Influencers on social media channels play a role as a marketing channel for products. Major influencers like Beyonce, the Kardashians and Taylor Swift, for example, can both impact the sales of products and a producer of goods as well market conditions. Taylor Swift famously forcing Apple to adjust its royalty payments to other artists. This impacted the entire music industry.

The creator economy, such as those who create channels on YouTube and may have audience reach larger than network television channels is another example. The sudden shift in the art world with the introduction of NFTs was a stunning impact on the division of labour, benefitting the artists. Whether NFTs will thrive, we can’t yet know. It may or may not be a fad. The capital system that controls the art industry, like those who control the music industry, do not like their systems to be disrupted. The capital system that controls the music industry created DRM (Digital Rights Management) to fight the rise of disruptors like Napster, largely winning in the end, but at a cost to artists and consumers.

The other, perhaps more critical aspect of social media’s role in capitalism is ideas and ideations. New innovations, inventions and technologies can be easily communicated via social media. So rather than taking weeks or even years to reach new markets or spark an idea for someone, it can happen without friction and incredibly fast.

Someone may see something shared on social media that is an expression of a common problem and get an idea on how to fix it and create a business. If the idea is executed well, capital will follow. If it is a very good idea, competitors will soon arise, an industry may be disrupted or a new market created. There are then new divisions of labour and new flows of capital.

The reaction to an idea can be swift on social media, good and bad. But this can give an indicator to capital that there is an opportunity or a risk to be avoided. A cultural group can also decide much faster if an idea is one to adopt or discard or adapt in a way that better suits their culture and society. This can happen quickly and at both a macro and micro level.

It’s an aspect of social media that isn’t often considered. Mostly because the majority of people aren’t thinking about capital flows and the division of labour when they’re scrolling through their timeline. But we know today that social media plays a role in politics locally to globally as well as other aspects of our society. While it’s hard to quantify impacts of ideas and ideations through social media, the fact that it is a communication technology and we do know they play a vital role in economics and capitalism, we can be fairly confident of social medias less discussed, let alone researched, role.

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Giles Crouch | Digital Anthropologist

Giles Crouch | Digital Anthropologist

Digital / Cultural Anthropologist | Featured in Wired, National Geographic & Forbes | Celt | Explorer | Intensely Curious