The Huffington Post has a history of causing controversy by maneuvering to acquire free labor. Now, the news website is again raising eyebrows, this time for its use of a new type of employee to keep its blogs updated: Unpaid children.
The issue brought forth by this policy is whether blogging constitutes labor (which in this case would be unpaid child labor). On the one hand, the vast majorities of bloggers write on their own time, without receiving any form of compensation (not that we’re complaining). On the other hand, many bloggers invoke the rights and protections of professional journalists, and the Huffington Post is certain to do so if the legal rights of its bloggers were ever challenged. But the issue I want to discuss is not that of child labor.
Rather, it is the issue of exploitation of our generation.
There are many outspoken critics of the Millennial generation. They describe us as lazy, self-obsessed, entitled, and unaware of the tough nature of the real world. These critiques highlight the large number of college graduates moving back in with their parents, or going for yet another degree just to delay moving into the job market. Yet they ignore the fact that it’s the short sighted and selfish actions of the Boomers controlling our government, businesses, and financial institutions that led to the 2008 Financial Crisis and left us in this precarious position. We grew up being told it was essential to graduate high school. Then the only way to get a job was to acquire a college degree. After that the Crisis hit, and it became impossible to find work without a graduate degree. And all the while we needed to continue stretching our wallets while working in unpaid internships.
In truth, Millennials are diligent and devoted; the problem with our generation is not that we are lazy and entitled, but rather than we are too hardworking. Without desirable jobs available, we continue to seek more education, and work in more and more unpaid positions to build our resumes in the hope of attaining a permanent career position. Some are even going so far as paying money just for the chance to work without a salary. Employers are exploiting this, developing an entire economy based on the free labor of an overqualified and desperate Millennial generation.
This trend is largely due to the economic problems of recent years, but now the Internet is becoming a tool for manipulating the value of labor and attaining it below cost. The Huffington Post’s controversies reflect the ease with which a company can find someone willing to perform services for free when putting the request out into cyberspace. Amazon’s Mechanical Turk is turning underpaid, informal labor into an organized and systematic practice. And CNN is steadily replacing employees with an unpaid army of iReporters.
Even in these tough times, I am sure that Millennials will rise to meet the challenges put before us. However, as we change, adapt, and continue to be diligent in the face of a demanding world, we must not abandon our right to payment and benefits of employment for the services we perform.