The opportunities social media provide for agential expressions of subjectivity and experiential learning, relative to social media's role in reproducing digital-era capitalism, are the subject of keen debate. There is now a burgeoning academic literature which suggests that social media users are, to a greater or lesser degree, alienated by the activities of mega-corporations like Google and Facebook. Within this literature two broad perspectives are clearly identifiable. The first insists that social media platforms strongly alienate their users. To the extent that critical media scholars who advance this proposition are preoccupied with ideological hegemony, their work emblematises the idealist tendency of (old) media theorists that Dallas W. Smythe criticises. Contributors to the second perspective posit a trade-off between social media user alienation and exploitation. Not only is this idea inherently problematical, it does not go far enough towards resetting the analysis of social media back onto a materialist track. This article seeks to do just that.