Have you ever heard of digital sharing economy? If you have, do you think this is a transformation of digital economy? This web essay will explore the political economics and cultural politics of social media sharing economy with reference to social news sharing ecology. This essay will also investigate how it transforms the current media and communication market internationally.
The rapid development and innovation of new technology, especially the emergence of social networking services, has tremendous influences on media industry as well as nowadays economic and political world. Social networked sharing economy is thus formed and developed in this context. This innovative form of internet transformation is now gradually entering the mainstream of media and communication market (John, 2018, p.69). As a new term that some people may not hear about it quite often, ‘sharing economy’ is a form of economic consumption and production that is different from normal commodity exchange. It is established basing on mutual beneficial relationships and collaborative ownership (Belk, 2010, p.722).
Historical development of digital sharing economy
The notion of ‘sharing economy’ has been first raised by two American sociologists, Felson and Spaeth (1978) in relation with collaborative consumption. However the idea of sharing economy had not been realized in a large scale due to the technology condition at that time. In the recent decade, the idea of digital sharing economy has redefined the way we view and evaluate shared possessions on account of the technological revolution of the media and communication industry have gradually led to the innovation and convergence of the digital world and the real world (Horowitz, 2011). This innovation and convergence has let the whole society get a chance to realize possession sharing on the basis of information and news sharing with the help of digital networking. Referring to Russell Belk (2010)’s view, sharing economy and collaborative consumption have changed people’s conception of “only things we owned belong to us” in the past to “things that we are able to use are considered as ours”. As a part of historical trends in internetworked media, digital sharing economy is now building a brand new digital economic model that people gathering together to create their own markets (Ibid.)
(This video could help us to understand more about the development of digital sharing economy and how the sharing ecology works.)
Figure 2. “The Rise of the Sharing Economy”. Video: The Federalist Society YouTube. All Rights Reserved.
The key business in sharing economy
Social news sharing takes dominant roles on both cultural and economic aspects in digital economy as well as the attention economy (Dwyer and Martin, 2019). The sharing economy in social media sometimes relies on social news sharing platforms such as Facebook, WeChat and Twitter, which are the mainstream sites the public usually access and share information (Newman et al, as cited in Dwyer and Martin, 2019, p.1) These major social sharing platforms are commonly used by people and have a certain amount of recommendations as well as advertisements that are aiming at target users, which could make the products in digital sharing economy more visible to the public. Apart from these social media cites in the mainstream, applications like Airbnb, Gumtree as well as music sharing sites like Spotify are considered the leading platforms in digital economy as they are quite influential in the current digital media market. The power of capitals and entrepreneurs behind these platforms are owning and controlling the key business of social networked sharing economy.
Benefits brought by digital sharing economy
Social and Cultural
Digital sharing economy has provided a new business model that promotes the digital platforms to reshape the current media ecologies as well as social and cultural reality (Dwyer and Martin, 2019).
According to the concept of sharing economy, firms such as Gumtree, Airbnb, and RVshare enable people to exchange services and goods through social networked platforms (Laurell and Sandström, 2017). This network innovation has changed individuals’ lifestyle and brought them lots of conveniences. As these platforms are seeking for new ways to provide services and products with more affordable prices than usual choices or even for free (Perini and Schwarten, 2013), consumers have started to turn their attention from traditional shopping style to those networked sharing platforms. An example of these is the bike sharing service company in China called Mobike, who places over a million shared bikes in different cities. People could ride these bikes to work or visit friends as long as they have downloaded the Mobike App to unlock the bike. These bikes are free for use at the beginning and now the price is 1 RMB per hour, which is quite cheap and more convenient than purchasing one on account of you don’t need to worry about finding the parking place or it been stolen. Many white-collar workers say that they like to ride the shared bikes from home to bus stop and then take bus to the working places, which could save the time in a large extent and make them feel more comfortable on their way to work. The digital sharing economy is making the public to view the social business development, consumption and ownership they expect in their cultures and societies from a new different perspective (Perini and Schwarten, 2013, p.10).
Politics and economics
As sharing economy platforms are rising rapidly in the media and communication market in the recent decade, researchers have stated that these platforms are “offering the potential of efficient utilization of resources, novel value creation, and technological disruption” (Laurell and Sandström, 2017, p.1) . These networked platforms have been finding approaches from the sharing economy notion to make their products more attractive and competitive than traditional options, while finding methods toward business expansion and economic sustainability as well (Perini and Schwarten, 2013).This kind of new mode of products or services distribution offered by digital networks would largely attract consumers, which helps to build the ‘digital sharing community’ and to commodify users’ information for their goal of business expansion. People could exchange services and products with each other after the construction of online sharing community. An instance for this is the Gumtree App, where individuals sell and share unused items to people who need them.
The ways and services provided by digital sharing economy companies for people to buy, use, and reuse products also have impacts on political economic field. Digital sharing economy approaches could help reducing the carbon footprint globally, which largely support the notion of ‘sustainable development’ advocated by the United Nations. Pouri and Hilty (2018) argued that sharing supplies are sharable resources, which implies that the use of supplies can be considered as ‘services’ in the digital sharing system but not actually consuming. Take umbrella sharing companies in some Asian countries (Singapore, China and Japan) as examples, they have contributed to sustainable development by reducing the consumption of fossil oil (the raw material of umbrellas) in terms of people choosing to use shared umbrellas instead. The digital sharing economy can potentially promote waste reduction and sustainable consumption.(Ibid).
Critics on digital sharing economy
To view through the lens of labour market, the digital sharing economy is different form the formal economic market. The formal economic market is “based on the employment of waged labour within a framework of rules and regulations” with minimum wages and security at work (Daniels, as cited in Pouri and Hilty, 2018, p. 502). While the labours under digital sharing economy are considered informal on account of they do not have social protections and regular salaries. In addition, some digital sharing platforms like Airbnb and Uber, have claimed that tax evasion is allowed (Baker, as cited in Pouri and Hilty, 2018). The informal labour and taxation can lead to an exploitative economic system (John 2018). The online creations, for instance, academic works and music pieces on Spotify, are shared for free. The unpaid labour without protection in digital sharing economy has led to unfairness in the media and communication market and publics’ concern of insecure labour.
To conclude, “A digital sharing economy is a resource allocation system, based on sharing practices, that is enabled by communication technology” (Pouri and Hilty, 2018, p.5). It offers chances for production and consumption in innovative approaches, which benefits both the individuals and the enterprises in terms of bringing conveniences to the public as well as helping to expand businesses. It also change people’s lifestyle and creates the new business model. From political and economic aspects, digital sharing economy provides the potential of resources efficiency and economic sustainability whilst also causes turbulence in the digital media market as it creates the unregulated labour market with unpaid and insecure labours. (Laurell and Sandström, 2017).
Belk, R. (2010). Sharing. Journal of Consumer Research. Oxford University Press, 36(5), 715-734. doi:10.1086/612649
Dwyer, T. & Martin, F. (2017). Sharing News Online: Social media news analytics and their implications for media pluralism policies, Digital Journalism, doi: 10.1080/21670811.2017.1338527
John, N. A. (2018). Sharing Economies. In The age of sharing (pp. 69–97). Polity.
Laurell, C., & Sandström, C., (2017). The sharing economy in social media: Analyzing tensions between market and non-market logics. In Phillips, F. (Eds.), Technological Forecasting and Social Change (pp. 58-65). doi: 10.1016/j.techfore.2017.05.038
Felson, M., & Spaeth, J. L. (1978). Community Structure and Collaborative Consumption: A Routine Activity Approach. American Behavioral Scientist, 21(4), 614-624. doi: 10.1177/000276427802100411
Horowitz, S. (2011, December 6). Occupy Big Business：The Sharing Economy’s Quiet Revolution. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/12/occupy-big-business-the-sharing-economys-quiet-revolution/249582/
Perini, F. & Schwarten, G. (2013). The Power of Sharing: Exploring the Digital Sharing Economy at the Base of the Pyramid, NESsT.
Pouri, M., J. & Hilty, L., M. (2018). Conceptualizing the Digital Sharing Economy in the Context of Sustainability, Sustainable Digital Sharing, 10(12):4453, doi: 10.3390/su10124453