On the ethical and political agency of online reputation systems

Keywords: reputation systems, sociotechnical assemblages, ethico-political agency


Social and socioeconomic interactions and transactions often require trust. In digital spaces, the main approach to facilitating trust has effectively been to try to reduce or even remove the need for it through the implementation of reputation systems. These generate metrics based on digital data such as ratings and reviews submitted by users, interaction histories, and so on, that are intended to label individuals as more or less reliable or trustworthy in a particular interaction context. We undertake a disclosive archaeology (Introna, 2014) of typical reputation systems, identifying relevant figuration agencies including affordances and prohibitions, (cyborg) identities, (cyborg) practices and discourses, in order to examine their ethico-political agency. We suggest that conventional approaches to the design of such systems are rooted in a capitalist, competitive paradigm, relying on methodological individualism, and that the reputation technologies themselves thus embody and enact this paradigm within whatever space they operate. We question whether the politics, ethics and philosophy that contribute to this paradigm align with those of some of the contexts in which reputation systems are now being used, and suggest that alternative approaches to the establishment of trust and reputation in digital spaces need to be considered for alternative contexts.

Author Biographies

Anna Wilson, University of Stirling
Lecturer in Lifelong Learning in the Faculty of Social Sciences
Stefano De Paoli, Abertay University
Senior Lectuer in the Division of Sociology
How to Cite
Wilson, A., & De Paoli, S. (2019). On the ethical and political agency of online reputation systems. First Monday, 24(2). https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v24i2.9393