Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

Newmark: Can New Trust and Reputation Systems Disrupt Power?

BY Micah L. Sifry | Tuesday, April 6 2010

Our friend Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, has a longish (for him) post up on his blog discussing how trust and reputation systems may be redistributing power and influence. He writes:

People use social networking tools to figure out who they can trust and rely on for decision making. By the end of this decade, power and influence will shift largely to those people with the best reputations and trust networks, from people with money and nominal power. That is, peer networks will confer legitimacy on people emerging from the grassroots.

This shift is already happening, gradually creating a new power and influence equilibrium with new checks and balances. It will seem dramatic when its tipping point occurs, even though we're living through it now.

Everyone gets a chance to participate in large or small ways, giving a voice to what we once called "the silent majority."

I think Craig is definitely on to something (and you should read his whole post), but as I told him in an email, it's one thing to see this play out over issues like whether a bookseller on Amazon or eBay is trustworthy, or whether you should trust someone's restaurant review, and something else when it comes to relating to people or institutions with real power.

Back in college, I remember my anthropology professor Kay Warren talk about the problem of "muting"--that is, when people with less power don't speak up in the presence of people with more power. Historian Lawrence Goodwyn, who wrote the definitive histories of agrarian populism in America and of the Solidarity movement in Poland*, writes:

Historically, societies are not routinely afflicted with "movements." Things are usually "normal" and people behave in conventional ways. A relatively small number of citizens possessing high sanction move about in an authoritative manner and much larger number of people without such sanction move about more softly....Movements disrupt this normal order.

Craig's theory of open networked trust systems needs to address how power shapes what people will or won't say about other people.

Stating that you distrust someone who is a stranger and who ripped you off on eBay is a lot different than stating that you distrust the police chief of your town because he seems to play favorites with some locals and discriminates against others.

I don't know what the answer is to that question, by the way, but it's at the core of why some systems of authority last well beyond the trust they may actually have among people.

Can open systems humble the powerful, from time to time? Absolutely. But is the sea-change Craig is predicting really underway? Until we take seriously how power reinforces itself, and how hard it is to organize social movements that question and disrupt inherited power, I think not.

*I can't recommend highly enough Goodwyn's book "Breaking the Barrier," on Solidarity, and in particular his discussion of social movement organizing.

News Briefs

RSS Feed wednesday >

Another Co-Opted Hashtag: #MustSeeIran

The Twitter hashtag #MustSeeIran was created to showcase Iran's architecture, landscapes, and would-be tourist destinations. It was then co-opted by activists to bring attention to human rights abuses and infringements. Now Twitter is home to two starkly different portraits of a country. GO

What Has the EU Ever Done For Us?: Countering Euroskepticism with Viral Videos and Monty Python

Ahead of the May 25 European Elections, the most intense campaigning may not be by the candidates or the political parties. Instead, some of the most passionate campaigns are more grassroots efforts focused on for a start stirring up the interest of the European electorate. GO

At NETmundial Brazil: Is "Multistakeholderism" Good for the Internet?

Today and tomorrow Brazil is hosting NETmundial, a global multi-stakeholder meeting on the future of Internet governance. GO

Brazilian President Signs Internet Bill of Rights Into Law at NetMundial

Earlier today Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff sanctioned Marco Civil, also called the Internet bill of rights, during the global Internet governance event, NetMundial, in Brazil.

GO

tuesday >

Ruck.us Reboots As a Candidate Digital Toolkit That's a Bit Too Like Democracy.com

Ruck.us launched with big ambitions and star appeal, hoping to crack the code on how to get millions of people to pool their political passions through their platform. When that ambition stalled, its founder Nathan Daschle--son of the former Senator--decided to pivot to offering political candidates an easy-to-use free web platform for organizing and fundraising. Now the new Ruck.us is out from stealth mode, entering a field already being served by competitors like NationBuilder, Salsa Labs and Democracy.com. And strangely enough, Ruck.us seems to want its early users to ask Democracy.com for help. GO

Armenian Legislators: You Can Be As Anonymous on the 'Net As You Like—Until You Can't

A proposed bill in Armenia would make it illegal for media outlets to include defamatory remarks by anonymous or fake sources, and require sites to remove libelous comments within 12 hours unless they identify the author.

GO

monday >

The Good Wife Looks for the Next Snowden and Outwits the NSA

Even as the real Edward Snowden faces questions over his motives in Russia, another side of his legacy played out for the over nine million viewers of last night's The Good Wife, which concluded its season long storyline exploring NSA surveillance. In the episode titled All Tapped Out, one young NSA worker's legal concerns lead him to becoming a whistle-blower, setting off a chain of events that allows the main character, lawyer Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), and her husband, Illinois Governor Peter Florrick (Chris Noth), to turn the tables on the NSA using its own methods. GO

The Expanding Reach of China's Crowdsourced Environmental Monitoring Site, Danger Maps

Last week billionaire businessman Jack Ma, founder of the e-commerce company Alibaba, appealed to his “500 million-strong army” of consumers to help monitor water quality in China. Inexpensive testing kits sold through his company can be used to measure pH, phosphates, ammonia, and heavy metal levels, and then the data can be uploaded via smartphone to the environmental monitoring site Danger Maps. Although the initiative will push the Chinese authorities' tolerance for civic engagement and activism, Ethan Zuckerman has high hopes for “monitorial citizenship” in China.

GO

The 13 Worst Bits of Russia's Current and Maybe Future Internet Legislation

It appears that Russia is on the brink of passing still more repressive Internet regulations. A new telecommunications bill that would require popular blogs—those with 3,000 or more visits a day—to join a government registry and conform to government-mandated standards is expected to pass this week. What follows is a list of the worst bits of both proposed and existing Russian Internet law. Let us know in the comments or on Twitter if we missed anything.

GO

Transparency and Public Shaming: Pakistan Tackles Tax Evasion

In Pakistan, where only one in 200 citizens files their income tax return, authorities published a directory of taxpayers' details for the first time. Officials explained the decision as an attempt to shame defaulters into paying up.

GO

More