Life is a game
10 Feb 2022
In a series of interviews we portray our Culture of Solidarity Fund grantees. The grantee featured here successfully applied to round 4: Culture of Solidarity in times of an infodemic.
IrpiMedia is an independent, non-profit online publication of investigative journalism based in Italy. Beyond national and continental borders, they report on issues including corruption, environmental issues, surveillance, migration and the judicial system. IrpiMedia’s mission to lead a more informed public debate for a fairer society motivates them to prioritise long-term investigations and thorough fact-checking.
Their project ‘Life is a game’ investigates the landscape of the platform economy, uncovering its criticalities from a human rights perspective. During the pandemic, European cities have seen a sharp increase in bike and scooter delivery services. Riders navigate the urban landscape in increasingly precarious circumstances with little to no break time as algorithms push for optimum efficiency. This growing workforce faces a dangerous erosion of their workers’ rights protection.
In an interview, Lorenzo Bagnoli from IrpiMedia told us about the ‘gamification’ strategy widely used to manage workers in the gig-economy: ‘Rewards and punishments, strategies adopted to control workers, and the interface of applications inspired by the world of video games outline a new way of understanding work by large multinationals. Workers are considered freelancers, but they move within a market where they do not know the rules, and in which competition is incessant in order to maintain their position. Work becomes an integral part of daily life as the separation between work and free time increasingly becomes non-existent.’ Often, the workers are migrants, asylum seekers, people who have long been out-of-work, and students. They are human beings with histories, aspirations and disappointments, but an algorithm controls their labour force. Not all workers have technological awareness of the applications they use, or of the rankings and bonuses the platforms impose. In short, workers are vulnerable to relentless exploitation.
To raise collective awareness on the working conditions of the platform workers and to stimulate informed choices in consumers, IrpiMedia will produce a documentary following and interviewing platform workers of big digital companies, starting with riders in Milan. ‘We have chosen to use the documentary format,’ IrpiMedia notes, ‘as it allows us to involve the viewer on an emotional level, stimulating empathy with the characters and the stories we are going to tell.’ The film will hybridise workers’ interviews with an animated narrative line, still based on actual events. While the interviews will give an account of the personal and emotional experiences of the riders, the animation will depict how the technology works. Thus the animated character will represent a sum of the stories, tying the affective back to the technological dimension. Though platforms and their business models change quickly, a universally recognisable experience will be synthesised in IrpiMedia’s narrative, representing the common afflictions of platform capitalism.
Experiences in Milan mirror the situation in Berlin, Paris, Barcelona, Istanbul and beyond. Multinational companies perpetuate an issue of a transnational scale. Thus, the cultivation of awareness and resistance around such exploitative circumstances, champions IrpiMedia, needs to be a Pan-European and even global endeavour. With the help of media partners (Voxeurope, Guerrilla translation, Occrp, Forbidden Stories, Lighthouse Reports, Hermes, and GIGleaks), the project will expand to cover the narratives of gig workers in other cities and across various languages.
Granted: 28500 euros.