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Seminar | Putting platform labor in its place: The market for social media engagements in Indonesia and beyond | Johan Lindquist & Esther Weltevrede

16/05/2023 @ 15:30 - 17:00

This paper takes a group of networked actors in Indonesia, who sell social media engagements such as Instagram followers, as an entry-point for describing and conceptualizing the organization of a transnational market. Although an increasing number of journalists and scholars are focusing attention on “disinformation-for-hire” actors, we still have limited knowledge of their identities and practices. This makes it difficult to grasp the broader markets they are part of, often leading to a priori and ethically charged generalizations. The illicit and sprawling global market market for social media engagements, for instance, often framed through the binaries “real” and “fake,” has generally been considered in terms of industrial metaphors such as “click farms,” “follower factories,” or as digital sweatshops based in the global south.

Utilizing a mixed methods approach that tacks back and forth between ethnography and digital methods, our research has pushed beyond these limited perspectives and identified a critical dimension of the market for social media engagement, a transnational ecosystem of so-called panels–automated and networked reseller websites that profit through arbitrage–which generally appear as cottage industries run by small groups of young men around the world. Taking this as a backdrop, the paper focuses ethnographic attention on the relationship between four reseller websites, three of which are based in Indonesia; describing the identities, practices, labor relations, and networks of those involved. Interviews and ethnographic observations reveal a fast-moving and cut-throat transnational market that allows for easy entry, a particularly compelling opportunity for digitally-savvy youth who lack easy access to jobs in the global south, but are able to recruit kin and friends as workers. Indonesia, the fourth most populous country in the world, has one of the world’s highest number of Facebook subscribers, while Jakarta has previously been dubbed the “Twitter capital” and is currently one of the Instagram capitals of the world. As such, this is an ideal starting point for disturbing the European and North American bias in platform labor research and offering novel perspectives on the organization of the market for social media engagements. This allows us to show how platform labor must be approached as an interface between global ecosystems and socio-historically situated forms of labor, and that beginning in the global south, at the fringes of social media platforms, offers a productive entry point for reconsidering current research agendas. 


Johan Lindquist is Professor and the Head of the Department of Social Anthropology at Stockholm University, a member of the editorial board of Pacific Affairs, has published articles in journals such as Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Mobilities, Public Culture, Pacific Affairs, and International Migration Review, is the co-editor of Who’s Cashing in? Contemporary Perspectives on New Monies and Global Cashlessness (Berghahn, 2020) and Figures of Southeast Asian Modernity (University of Hawai’i Press, 2013), the author of The Anxieties of Mobility: Development and Migration in the Indonesian Borderlands (University of Hawai’i Press, 2009), and the director of B.A.T.A.M. (DER, 2005). His research interests include migration, Indonesia, digital labor, and methodology.

Esther Weltevrede is Assistant Professor of New Media and Digital Culture at the University of Amsterdam. She is a member of the international research collectives Digital Methods Initiative, App Studies Initiative, Public Data Lab and Beyond Verification. Her work is supported by the Dutch Research Council (NWO), project number VI.Veni.191C.048. Her research interests include digital methods, software studies, platform studies, app studies, disinformation studies, and algorithm studies.


David Kloos, senior researcher at KITLV. He is interested in religion, gender, violence, colonialism, knowledge formation, visual methods, and the social and political aspects of climate change. 

Format, date, time & venue

This seminar is a hybrid event and will be held in the conference room of KITLV (room 1.68) and online via Zoom, on Tuesday 16 May, from 15.30 – 17.00 PM (CET).


If you want to join this seminar on location, please register via: [email protected].

If you wish to join this webinar online, please register here.


Google’s head office in Jakarta. Photographer: Johan Lindquist.


15:30 - 17:00
Event Category:


KITLV, room 1.68 & via Zoom