What is it about?

Reputational measures are everywhere online: from Facebook 'likes' and share counts, to retweets, 'rep power' discussion forum scores and Amazon seller '% positive' ratings. What are the effects of the constant use of reputation metrics in online platforms? This article explores how constant ranking and rating online can lead to more uncertainty about the 'value' of online reputations, rather than less. Further, the constant call to rank and rate online contributes to the rise of new tactics for tarnishing others' reputations. I term these tactics ‘reputation warfare’ when they operate at large scale (for example, in political campaigns).

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Why is it important?

Reputation has become increasingly visible online – and it is increasingly treated as something that can be straightforwardly measured. Given this, it is important to understand how online reputational measurements can make social values less certain, not more. Gaming online reputational measures is based on the urge to create changeability in the value of online reputation – almost like producing a storm in the ‘reputational weather’ surrounding someone’s online profile.

Perspectives

In the wake of the 2016 UK Brexit referendum and Trump election campaign, I began to sense a shift in how online reputation worked. Some writers on online reputation in the early 2010s suggested that reputations could be accurately measured by platform metrics, and that this could empower users. I sensed that, given the rise of trolling, this wasn’t the case anymore for many – if indeed it ever was. I started to see a lot of authors addressing the significance of online trolling (on platforms such as 4chan and reddit, for example), especially since trolls on these platforms played a significant role in the Trump presidential campaign. But I didn’t see much that explored the link between the more mundane uses of reputational measures online (such as checking Amazon or eBay seller ratings) and the more violent and/or politically charged ones (such as shaming someone on Twitter, or sharing anti-Hillary Clinton memes on 4chan). This article is an attempt to show that these phenomena – while they may not seem directly linked – share a similar logic. It suggests that the constant measurement of online reputation is a significant background condition, which enables trolling to take shape.

Emily Rosamond
Goldsmiths, University of London

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This page is a summary of: From Reputation Capital to Reputation Warfare: Online Ratings, Trolling, and the Logic of Volatility, Theory Culture & Society, September 2019, SAGE Publications, DOI: 10.1177/0263276419872530.
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