Amid mounting legal and financial strife, mainstream platform companies—from Meta and YouTube to TikTok and Twitch–are doubling down on their idealistic framing of the digital “Creator Economy.” But the image of social media as an entrepreneurial Promised Land is belied by the precarious, even perilous realities of platform-dependent labor. Drawing upon insight from more than 80 interviews with digital content creators, influencers, and streamers, this talk illuminates the source of their plight: a platformed visibility bind. In a labor market where algorithms are key arbiters of success—and failure—creators struggle to defy the imminent threat of invisibility. But they must also navigate the risks of hypervisibility, from burnout and cultural appropriation to trolling and targeted harassment.
This talk argues that the consequences of this bind are amplified for marginalized creators—including women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. While this research provides a necessary rejoinder to creator economy boosterism, it also lays bare creators’ efforts to resist and even subvert platforms’ governing visibility logics. Moreover, by shedding light on the contradictions inherent in the new realm of creative work, this research provides valuable lessons for anyone roused by the siren song to “put themselves out there.”
Brooke Erin Duffy, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Communication at Cornell University, where she holds affiliate appointments in the Programs in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (FGSS) and Media Studies. Her research interests include: platforms and cultural production; social media influencers and the creator economy; gender, identity, and inequality; and algorithms and promotional culture. Duffy is the author or editor of four books, including (Not) Getting Paid to Do What You Love: Gender and Aspirational Labor in the Social Media Economy (Yale University Press, 2017/2022)—which Wired named as one of the “Top Tech Books of 2017”—and Platforms and Cultural Production (Polity, 2022), with Thomas Poell and David Nieborg.
Duffy has published her research in such journals as Journal of Communication, New Media & Society, the International Journal of Communication, Critical Studies in Media Communication, the International Journal of Cultural Studies, Social Media + Society, and Information, Communication, and Society. In addition to her academic publications, she has disseminated her research to a broader audience through popular writing in The Atlantic, Vox, Salon, Business Insider, Wired, and Quartz, among others. Duffy holds a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication. For more information, visit: www.brookeduffy.com