Accepted Paper:

Beyond Digital Sweatshops: Click Farming and Mobility in Indonesia  


Johan Lindquist (Stockholm University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper focuses on Indonesian "click farmers" who produce and sell followers on social media platforms; aspirational and experimentally-oriented young men highly cognizant of the instable nature of their labor. The ethnography allows for an engagement with debates concerning digital labor.

Paper long abstract:

This paper focuses on Indonesian "click farmers" who produce and sell followers, likes, and views on social media platforms such as Instagram. Click farms evoke industrial settings with exploited workers, which some observers argue are the new sweatshops and a major problem of unregulated labor specific to the global South (DePillis 2014). Although evidence suggests that the majority of click farmers are based in Asian countries with low per capita incomes and high degrees of digital engagement, interviews with more than 25 Indonesian click farmers reveals that they are generally aspirational, entrepreneurial, and relatively independant young men who are highly cognizant of the instable and fluctuating nature of their labor. This suggests that the labor that underpins click farming is neither organized in geographically concentrated industrial settings nor directly exploitative. The paper thus flips the received wisdom concerning digital labor in the global South on its head through an ethnographic description of the diverse strands of mobility that organize click farming, ranging from the mobility of click farmers to particular geographical hubs of digital economies, the forms of translocal and transnational engagement that underpins their labor, and their aspirations for social mobility. In other words, the paper approaches click farmers' engagement with social media platforms as a mobile form of experimentation that has been made possible through the rise of the digital economy. It thus aims to use ethnographic description in order to shape a mode of analysis located between overly celebratory and critical approaches to digital labor.

Panel P057
Digitisation, and the future of labour and migration