Platform economy changes everything?

| Blog
Marja Rautajoki

Die Plattformökonomie ändert alles – Platform economy changes everything. This punchy line was written in one of Germany’s widely-read online magazines in February 2017. Actually, this sentence started the idea of writing my master’s thesis about platform economy and crowdwork platforms and how they are described in German online magazines. I remained to ponder the association of the sentence: platform economy changes everything. The short sentence holds a strong message.

In my master’s thesis, I studied articles from four German-speaking online magazines in 2017 and in early 2018. I wanted to find out how platform economy and crowdwork platforms are represented in the media, and whose voice can be heard behind the descriptions. I identified five different thematic discourses that describe platform economy as a disruptive actor, to whom the power of the markets is centralized through data collection. The magazines use antithesis as a way to write about the phenomenon, which occurs in contradictions that simultaneously reveals that platforms are a threat to employment and the economy, but that they also create new ways of working and business. When discussing on crowdwork, the focus is on employee and employee status.

According to the results of my research, last year 2017 and in early this year the discussion on the platform economy could be described as uncertainty. The contents of the online newspaper articles I used as data were polarized when looking at the positive and negative descriptions of the platform economy. The connecting factor, however, is that, according to the articles, no one seems to know what effect the phenomena in reality have on the economy and the working life. How does such a manifestation of suspicion affect public opinion? Does it create the impression that the platform economy and the work transmitting platforms are uncontrollable and independent factors capable of changing everything in their omnipotent capacity?

In my data, platforms are described as subjects that revolutionize, abduct, override and invade the environment and knock over everything on their path. The core of the platform economy are the algorithms and massive data gathering to enable managing and controlling people. The algorithm is the boss form people working on platforms, not another human being. The employment of crowdworkers is described with words “abhängige Selbstständigkeit”, dependent independence. On the other hand, crowdwork employees are considered as digital bohemians who want to live without the conditions of a normal employment, completely free in accordance with their own life situations and values. Also descriptive words such as precarious and precarisation are used within articles.

When contemplating the issue, I came to the interpretation that this kind of language is likely to create the impression that platforms live as if they had their own life without human intervention and empowerment. The inevitable fact is, of course, that today’s world will be different tomorrow, and digitalisation will make economy, working life and society change at an ever-quicker pace. It is worth remembering, however, that there is still a human being at the centre of change that still determines the kind of world we want to live in today and in the future. Instead of stating, I want to ask: Does platform economy change everything?

 

Reference:

Rautajoki, M. (2018): „Die Plattformökonomie ändert alles“. Diskursanalyse über die Plattformökonomie in vier deutschen Online-Zeitungen 2017-2018.

Master’s thesis is published online: http://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi-fe2018101538233
Thesis is written in german and it has a summary in finnish as an attachment.


Marja Rautajoki works as a project researcher in SWiPE project.