In the wake of what The Economist calls the “techlash”, policy makers are rethinking the fundamental legal modelling of platform principle, policy, and practice. But, whether from platform CEOs, politicians or policymakers, we hear scant attention paid to creator rights and career sustainability. As we argued in Social Media Entertainment: The New Intersection of Hollywood and Silicon Valley (Cunningham and Craig, 2019), the term creators refers to social media entrepreneurs and cultural producers harnessing platforms to engage fan communities for commercial and cultural value with this emerging creative industry. There, and in a forthcoming issue of Social Media + Society, we set out a creator-centric account of industrial and governance issues in social media entertainment that recognize creators as stakeholders in current debates on platform governance, while operating centrally in the rise of new digital, platform, and gig economies and contributing vitally to more diverse forms of cultural and political expression.
We argue that what appears to be a gross power asymmetry between platforms and creators should be viewed through a Foucauldian understanding of power as always relational and contingent and an attention to the potential amplification that powerful network effects can have for creator voices. The interests of creators are examined in the “top-down” context of the exercise of platform governance and efforts, by platforms and the state, to improve it. Those interests are also canvassed from the “bottom-up” – how creators and creator advocacy are organizing and acting collectively to improve prospects for creators in this emerging industry. We identify how platforms contribute to precarious labor conditions for creators but also outline how most platforms have had to follow the YouTube model of shared revenue for creators because of creators’ increasing value to platforms’ bottom line. Fragmented U.S. regulation, whether by the FCC or FTC, or between federal and state agencies, along with emerging fissures between U.S. and E.U. platform regulation, have sometimes placed demands on creators more onerous than those placed on traditional media celebrities. In response, creators are self-organizing through efforts like the Internet Creators Guild and YouTubers Union, partnered with other media advocacy groups, or aligned with unions, whether AFL-CIO or SAG-AFTRA or emerging tech unions both in the US and in Europe.