Digital interconnectedness was said to usher in greater understanding between people. It was supposed to be good for democracy, political participation, and representation of disenfranchised segments of the population. The nature of how digital media platforms are designed both in terms of interface attractiveness and social validation specifically reinforce a mechanism of addiction.
According to Christian Fuchs, such feedback loops of attention, attraction, and commodification inevitably lead to a reduction of human agency toward mere consumption of digital advertisements. The for-profit business model of digital technology is indeed in danger of developing feudalistic tendencies, but advertising and digital content by themselves cannot be interpreted as feudalistic structures.
Digital security is not a monolithic term and means different things to different players in the digital domain. For most users, digital security implies identity, asset, and basic rights protection in an interconnected domain. It can imply anonymity, VPN-masking, and privacy measures. For online sales and advertising companies, security means trusted exchange, meaning no fraudulent transactions and better authentication, along with cybersecurity of their network: defence against malware, viruses, and worms, etc.
Audiences are exploited by the very means by which they engage with media—attention—and that is then sold as a commodity in the form of advertisement. For Smythe, this was less exploitation and more surplus value generation, as he constructed users not as passive objects, but participants in a wider structure, driven by their desires for approval and consumption. Users are taking part in media capital generation structure, not because they are obligated to, as in communism, but because they choose to do so, as in consumerism.
Graham Murdock built upon these claims to construct the power of media companies’ production means within the context of their agenda-setting power and on their “economic and political structures.” These structures are built on their ability to “sell the status-quo,” rather than a specific line of product.
Digital space is not feudal because the production means are not centralised around a single, understanding of security and survival that determines the nature of such a relationship. Digital space, therefore, brings like-minded people closer together but cannot create new possibilities beyond those to which digital actors already subscribe. This debate is important because it links directly to current trends in online versus offline engagement. Despite the problems associated with internet use and engagement, the relationship between the two is well established when controlled both for interest and efficacy or trust. The fundamental problem of digital space is its main currency – attention, which calls for a new model properly contextualised in global analytics.
Challenges remain, however, that the resource-generating model of digital space benefits emotionally-charged content over verified information, creating the very environment in which trolls, bots, and fake news thrive. This relationship isn’t automatic and context-specific, as explained earlier, yet is sufficiently problematic to disrupt and influence processes. This, in turn, calls for more case study research, as well as continued debate and restructuring of the relationships between attention as a resource, digital engagement, and architectures of automation.
Tiziana Terranova, “Free Labor: Producing Culture for the Digital Economy,” Social Text 18, no.2 (2000): 33-58; Christian Fuchs, “Dallas Smythe Reloaded: Critical Media and Communication Studies Today,” The Audience Commodity in a Digital Age: Revisiting a Critical Theory of Commercial Media”.