New Criticals

This puts the products of YouTube labor in a doubly precarious situation. Like many other contingent media workers, they are not technically in the employ of any company. Unlike a contract worker, they are only paid for views garnered by their content and the definition and value of those views remains in flux. This would be a bit like being a software programmer that was paid based on how many people used their lines of code and then that payment varied by the demographic information of the software users. Imagine television actors’ pay rates being tied not to union agreements but to Nielsen ratings. Now imagine if those ratings changed, not from broadcast to broadcast, but retroactively and without warning.

For both content-producers and researchers alike, the platform’s fluxing enumeration of views and opaque disciplinary actions presents at least two distinct problems. First, sociological research suggests that the cultural logic by which labor comes to be measured and thus valued shapes both the meaning of work and the potential for collective labor mobilization [vii]. How then might the fundamental instability of a view affect how content producers understand both their position vis-à-vis the technological (often global) capital of platforms? Second, and of more practical concern for creators, how does one mobilize against power that remains partially unknowable and, often, unreachable? This is not solely a problem for YouTubers. As I’ve shown elsewhere, this affects office workers in digital media just as much as it affects vloggers, bloggers, journalists, and other workers and organizations downstream from media distribution platforms. They all occupy similar structural positions vis-à-vis platforms and from below, the platform appears inscrutable, high above in the cloud.