Resisting the Digital Labor Management Robot : Learning to Game The YouTube Search Algorithm from Video Game Commentary Makers

CSTMS Colloquia


April 19, 2018
4:00pm to 5:30pm
190 Doe Library
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From 2007 until recently, a group of video gamers grew, from a small collective of participatory fans showcasing their play on obscure YouTube channels, into media personalities converting their play into significant revenues. But how did they do this so effectively? Did platform design reify the meritocracy and afford talented people the tools to create novel content and let the millions of information seekers on the web crown them the next YouTube sensation? Or was there an algorithmic method to their rise that both rewarded and disciplined their production? If it was the latter, did they know about it and how did they contend with having their position as media makers be technologically shaped by algorithm and affordances? The research shows they assumed liminal identities straddling craftwork and alienation. Sometimes they were unhappy laborers in the creative industry that is user generated content on YouTube. At other times they were media entrepreneurs, savvy about how algorithms determine their viewership and stardom, who were not averse to coercing their viewership to do their bidding through “giveaways,” staged “YouTube hate” between them, subscriber trading and other strategies. This presentation will describe these in detail and wrestle with how we understand digital labor. Harry Braverman once described a “deskilling” process that took much power away from industrial laborers. Research on YouTube video game commentators shows processes at times similar but also vastly different. This event is co-sponsored by BIDS.

CSTMS Colloquia host invited speakers representing a wide range of research interests from around the world. They are often live-streamed, and you are welcome to watch when they are.


Hector Postigo

Associate Professor of Media & Communication and Media Studies & Production
Temple University

Hector Postigo’s research focuses on new digital media and cultural production both large and small. His work has centered on two areas of inquiry in cultural production. The first interrogates notions of value, participation and “free” labor on the internet. In looking at a number of sites as case studies, he asks: what kinds of value does the work of fan communities, volunteers and others add to commercial enterprises? What are their (industry and user) norms, practices and values? And how do they engage with technologies, laws and policies that afford or frustrate participation? For example, Postigo was one of the first researchers to study video game fan communities that make valuable modifications to popular PC games (modders) and has written on the history of AOL volunteer communities and their labor disputes.

His second line of research focuses on technologically mediated activism. He interrogates this topic by asking how technological resistance structures activism in social movements. Postigo is concerned with how ICTs, hacks, workarounds and other circumvention and organization measures might impact the role of individuals and organizations bent on social change. His contributions in that vein have centered on the digital rights or free culture movement and their use of technological measures as a form of activism. His book on that topic was published by MIT Press.

Postigo is currently conducting research on Web 2.0 and social change organizations with Carla Ilten from the Technical University of Berlin, a graduate student of sociology at the University of Illinois Chicago. He’s also started thinking about privacy and participation in web platforms, and wrapped up research on the U.S. security and privacy industry and its branding and marketing practices. That project was funded by the European Commission 7th Programme Framework. Postigo also published a co-edited volume on that topic, available from Palgrave Macmillan Press. And with Tarleton Gillespie (from Cornell University), he received funding from the National Science Foundation for a new project on cultural production in the digital age. They’ve also founded a blog called Culture Digitally.