Research project Shadow Economies of the Internet: An Ethnography of Click Farming
This project investigates the devices, actors, sites, and processes that are at the center of the developing controversy around “fake news” and “fake clicks”: so-called “click farms,” persons or companies selling likes, views, and followers on social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter via unregulated online marketplaces.
Previous research suggests that the majority of click farms are based in Asian countries such as Indonesia and India, while click buyers are concentrated in North America and Europe. Rather than taking this North-South dichotomy for granted, however, the project aims to empirically study how clicks are assembled into a commodity that emerges through the transnational interactions between sellers, buyers, and online marketplaces.
Methodologically, the project combines ethnographic fieldwork among click farmers, mainly in Indonesia, with digital methods. Click farming has only been sparsely researched, and primarily in ethical and regulatory terms, through a focus either on digital labor or internet marketing fraud. This project suggests a perspective of “ethical inversion” that takes the South rather than North as a starting point regarding reigning digital norms and ideals, with the aim to critically re-evaluate the “like economy.” In doing so, it develops empirically grounded social theory and a broader analytical grasp of today’s digital media ecology.