Prosumer Co-Op

Have you heard of an online social network called Commonicate? No? Well, that’s because it does not exist. But it could. Commonicate could be a non-commercial prosumer co-operative, commonly owned and controlled by all its members and supported by a publicly funded participatory media fee.

The idea of co-operatives is not new. From co-operative shops, factories or cafés, to entire villages - people have been looking towards collective alternatives to capitalist businesses since the early 19th century. Co-operatives are organisations that are collectively owned and democratically controlled by its members who can be workers, consumers or also prosumers (producers+- consumers). Today, creating prosumer co-ops could be a way to confront the problems of commercial ‘social’ media such as surveillance, free labour and corporate power.

The owners of commercial ‘social’ media platforms not only have the power to decide on the design and functionality of these platforms, to set the terms of use and sell user data to advertisers, they also generate profit from the unpaid labour of social media users. On corporate social media, the discourse of sharing serves to obscure the appropriation of social labour for private profit.

On the contrary, in our fictitious prosumer co-op Commonicate, users would not only be sharing ideas and information, but also sharing ownership and decision rights. Membership would have to be open to all Internet users. Collaborative decision-making on a global scale could be organised through a combination of voting systems and decentralised grassroots politics.

Commonicate could be based on open source software, creating a transparent and adaptable technological infrastructure. Prosumer co-operators worldwide could use the platform to discuss how it can best support their needs for communication, collaboration and creative production. They could share ideas, knowledge and technical skills to empower all members to participate in the creation of a truly social media platform.

As a non-commercial prosumer co-op, Commonicate would not rely on private investment or on the sale of user data to advertisers. The income needed to pay for technological infrastructure and the labour of designers and software developers could come from donations, a socially just membership contribution or a participatory media fee - funded for example through an advertising tax as Christian Fuchs suggested in the previous edition of the ILU Zine.

Prosumer co-ops will not change the Internet single-handedly. But along with ideas such as creating an immaterial labour union, a guaranteed basic income as a social wage for everyone, a publicly funded participatory media fee or other progressive media policies such as a opt-in requirements for advertising, prosumer co-ops could contribute to challenging today’s commercial media landscape, creating democratic and collaborative social media commons.