Insights from Relevance Theory on the Marxist critique of social media

Ella Lillqvist, Anu Harju

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionProfessional


With focus on Facebook, this paper contributes to the scholarly discussion that draws from Marxist concepts to examine “labour relations” between social media organizations as capitalist enterprises and users as both free labour and unwitting commodities sold to advertisers. This critical stream of research has not yet paid much attention to the ideological processes that may be facilitating the establishment and maintenance of such exploitative relations. We adopt a discursive perspective and draw on linguistic pragmatics to shed light on these processes. In particular, we employ the notions of ‘relevance’ and ‘cognitive illusion’ to explore in detail the discourse that influences how the user-platform relationship is, firstly, constructed in and by Facebook’s organizational communication, and secondly, understood by social media users. We introduce a discursive process we call context manipulation; it is an analytical concept that helps bring to focus the discursive obscuring of the capitalist operational logic and the simultaneous solicitation of users. By empirically elaborating on these discursive processes leading to commodification of users, this paper contributes to a better understanding of the workings of ideology in the context of corporate social media and highlights the discursive nature of such processes that have previously, within Marxist Internet studies, been viewed mainly from an economic perspective.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication32nd European Group for Organisational Studies Colloquium (EGOS), Naples, Italy, July 7-9 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016
MoE publication typeD3 Professional conference proceedings
EventEuropean Group for Organizational Studies Colloquium - University of Naples Federico II Department of Economics, Management and Institutions, Naples, Italy
Duration: 7 Jul 20169 Jul 2016
Conference number: 32


ConferenceEuropean Group for Organizational Studies Colloquium
Abbreviated titleEGOS
Internet address

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