When does free work online cross the line?

There is a specialty message board I’m on, it will remain nameless.

The admin PM’d me and asked me if I’d be interested in being a junior mod, said it would require me to be online and doing mod work for at LEAST eight hours every day!?! And this would all be unpaid of course, basically all I would get out of it is the joy of wielding my large throbbing mod stick of power. I laughed and declined, he said no biggie plenty of others he can hit up. This board has several times had industry surveys that the admin begs users to fill out to support the site, he has a bunch of junior mods apparently devoting a full days labor every day to keeping it humming. It definitely seems to be exploiting a certain kind of personality.

There are tons of other examples of sites where essentially free labor is exploited, hell last.fm let their users build up the giant database of music connections and than whoops sorry guys we’re going to a pay site so thanks for creating our product!

Sometimes it backfires in user revolts and wars.

I wonder if it ever crosses the line, would Apple for instance be able to let the endless Apple fanboys/girls work the retail floor for no pay just because they luv being so close to Apple?

Apple would never do it even if they could. Too much liability involved. They also have to avoid violating labor laws. But some businesses have unpaid internships. I think from their point of view they’re offering you a privilege, and you can take it or leave it.

I heard about another message board that will remain nameless. But anyway, this board consisted solely of posts made by members and was only intermittently (and inconsistently) moderated. Well one day the owner convinced all the users to pay him (!) for the right to create all the content on this board. And eventually, even though he eventually had to make the board free again, people continued to pay him, just for bragging rights and an extra line of text under their username.

So apparently, yes, a lot of people can be tricked into working for free or even paying for the privilege.

I blame Tom Saywer, he started it. Stupid fence!

I see what you did there.

Well you’ll never catch me posting on a board like that. Wait … what?!?

I think there is a difference between using a free service casually, or even paying a nominal fee for use, than putting in a full workday’s worth of labor every single day for free, and not only that but unenjoyable digital mop work.

In the very early days of AOL didn’t they get in trouble for something along these lines?

I don’t know that bragging rights have anything to do with it. If I use a resource that I enjoy, I will contribute my money/time/ability to support it if I am able.

I am technical (actually TeXnical) editor of an online journal that is distributed free. There is no revenue and, of course, no pay. The editors and referees are not paid, but that is standard in this business. Usually the editor-in-chief and technical editors get a small pay. At any rate, we each put in maybe more like 8 hours a month and are happy to do so. Eight hours a day? That sounds like exploitation. Does anybody get paid for this? The main organizer? Does it generate even advertising revenue? I wouldn’t do it.

There’s a coffee shop I frequent, who shall remain nameless, that I pay to get a cup of coffee at. It seems ridiculous, I know, because I could get make coffee for pennies on the dollar at home and even more ridiculous when you realize that they probably wouldn’t kick me out if I just sat down at a table without ordering anything! But I get one of those nifty punch cards that get me something nice after ten purchases so I can brag to the moochers who don’t buy anything and therefore don’t get the punch card. Still, I get your point. What kind of sucker would pay for the priviledge of getting a product they enjoy?

More like the owner offers you the chance to become a server with no pay, but you will get to push around the lowly customers.

Well there’s two questions to address. One is why become a mod. I’m not a mod and so I didn’t answer that one. The second question is why I’d buy a membership when I could just as easily put up an adblocker and have the same experience on here. Because I choose to support a business whose services I enjoy.

Why not try being a junior mod here for a while and see how you like it? A lot of people really seem to get into it.


So the sparkly vampire magic of the internet provided the servers, software and maintenance personnel to keep that message board running? God bless you free internet! Screw you exploitative owner whoever you are!