Title: The Clickwrap: A Political Economic Mechanism for Manufacturing Consent on Social Media

Authors: Jonathan A. Obar and Anne Oeldorf-Hirsch

Published in: Social Media + Society


The clickwrap is a digital prompt that facilitates consent processes by affording users the opportunity to quickly accept or reject digital media policies. A qualitative survey analysis was conducted (N = 513), assessing user interactions with the consent materials of a fictitious social media service, NameDrop. Findings suggest that clickwraps serve a political economic function by facilitating the circumvention of consent materials. Herman and Chomsky’s notion of the “buying mood” guides the analysis to analogize how social media maintain flow to monetized sections of services while diverting attention from policies that might encourage dissent. Clickwraps accomplish this through an agenda-setting function whereby prompts encouraging circumvention are made more prominent than policy links. Results emphasize that clickwraps discourage engagement with privacy and reputation protections by suggesting that consent materials are unimportant, contributing to the normalization of this circumvention. The assertion that clickwraps serve a political economic function suggests that capitalist methods of production are successfully being integrated into social media services and have the ability to manufacture consent.

Notes: Photographs in the NameDrop image are replacements similar to those from the original. Photo credits from Harbucks, Kuzma, NADOFOTOS, Voyagerix, and zdenkam. The header background on this page is from The Clickwrap and The Biggest Lie on the Internet, a video about the study.