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 tuesday >

Weekly Readings: What the Govt Wants to Know

A roundup of interesting reads and stories from around the web. GO

Russia to Treat Bloggers Like Mass Media Because "the F*cking Journalists Won't Stop Writing"

The worldwide debate over who is and who isn't a journalist has raged since digital media made it much easier for citizen journalists and other “amateurs” to compete with the big guys. In the United States, journalists are entitled to certain protections under the law, such as the right to confidential sources. As such, many argue that blogging should qualify as journalism because independent writers deserve the same legal protections as corporate employees. In Russia, however, earning a place equal to mass media means additional regulations and obligations, which some say will lead to the repression of free speech.

GO

Politics for People: Demanding Transparent and Ethical Lobbying in the EU

Today the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) launched a campaign called Politics for People that asks candidates for the European Parliament to pledge to stand up to secretive industry lobbyists and to advocate for transparency. The Politics for People website connects voters with information about their MEP candidates and encourages them to reach out on Facebook, Twitter or by email to ask them to sign the pledge.

GO

monday >

Security Agencies Given Full Access to Telecom Data Even Though "All Lebanese Can Not Be Suspects"

In late March, Lebanese government ministers granted security agencies unrestricted access to telecommunications data in spite of some ministers objections that it violates privacy rights. Global Voices reports that the policy violates Lebanon's existing surveillance and privacy law, Law 140, but has gotten little coverage from the country's mainstream media.

GO

friday >

In Google Hangout, NYC Mayor de Blasio Talks Tech and Outer Borough Potential

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio followed the lead of President Obama and New York City Council member Ben Kallos Friday by participating in a Google Hangout to help mark his first 100 days in office, in which the conversation focused on expanding access to technology opportunities through education and ensuring that the needs of the so-called "outer boroughs" aren't overlooked. GO

thursday >

In Pakistan, A Hypocritical Gov't Ignores Calls To End YouTube Ban

YouTube has been blocked in Pakistan by executive order since September 2012, after the “blasphemous” video Innocence of Muslims started riots in the Middle East. Since then, civil society organizations and Internet rights advocacy groups like Bolo Bhi and Bytes for All have been working to lift the ban. Last August the return of YouTube seemed imminent—the then-new IT Minister Anusha Rehman spoke optimistically and her party, which had won the majority a few months before, was said to be “seriously contemplating” ending the ban. And yet since then, Rehman and her party, the conservative Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), have done everything in their power to maintain the status quo.

GO

The #NotABugSplat Campaign Aims to Give Drone Operators Pause Before They Strike

In the #NotABugSplat campaign that launched this week, a group of American, French and Pakistani artists sought to raise awareness of the effects of drone strikes by placing a field-sized image of a young girl, orphaned when a drone strike killed her family, in a heavily targeted region of Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province. Its giant size is visible to those who operate drone strikes as well as in satellite imagery. GO

Boston and Cambridge Move Towards More Open Data

The Boston City Council is now considering an ordinance which would require Boston city agencies and departments to make government data available online using open standards. Boston City Councilor At Large Michelle Wu, who introduced the legislation Wednesday, officially announced her proposal Monday, the same day Boston Mayor Martin Walsh issued an executive order establishing an open data policy under which all city departments are directed to publish appropriate data sets under established accessibility, API and format standards. GO

YouTube Still Blocked In Turkey, Even After Courts Rule It Violates Human Rights, Infringes on Free Speech

Reuters reports that even after a Turkish court ruled to lift the ban on YouTube, Turkey's telecommunications companies continue to block the video sharing site.

GO

wednesday >

Everything You Need to Know About Social Media and India's General Election

The biggest democratic election in the world to date is taking place in India from April 7 to May 14, and, for the first time in India, the results might hinge on who runs a better social media campaign. The Mumbai research firm Iris Knowledge Foundation has said that Facebook will “wield a tremendous influence” but Indian politicians are not limiting their attentions to India's most popular social media platform. In addition to virtual campaigning are initiatives to inform, educate and encourage Indians to participate in their democracy.

GO

More