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Reputation? Social control… Part 1.

The first in a series about reputation and social credit taken from my Trust Systems Book

We find ourselves in a situation where reputation is an important currency. Reputation can be used to better promote things, sell things, get things done online, and so on. It is also, therefore, a target. If someone's reputation can be hijacked, the results could be very problematic. It could be used to vouch for someone in order to insert them into a social network to be malicious. It could be used to promote malware, and so forth. It could, then, be “spent" on bad things. Worse, it could be used to blackmail the person to whom it belongs, since it is such an important online tool in the 21st century, much as it was an important societal tool in previous centuries. Locking someone out of their reputation account, or social network account, could indeed be a highly lucrative business. How might this work? There are many ways. Consider for example stealing the account and asking for money to get it back. Or blackmailing the owner in order to get them to do something for you. In case you didn’t think it mattered too much, there are companies who specialize in rebuilding the reputation of people who have done something that in retrospect seems a little foolish. The Internet is a terribly harsh place – so many people are quite happy to judge others by some measure which makes the judge look good and the judged look bad, and they are quite happy to be vocal about it, often with disastrous results for the judged whilst the judge feels righteous (I say feels - rarely are they ever such a thing). Consider the case of the person who took a prank picture of themselves at a cemetery. I’m not going to mention the name or the place, you can find it for yourself. The result of this person posting the photo was a “Fire X” Facebook page, death threats, rape threats, the works. And yes, they lost their job. Still today you can find the person’s name and what happened along with the opprobrium attached to the action, years later. Frankly, I don’t really care much about whether what was done was “right” or “wrong”: the reaction was disproportionate, and quite probably based on self-righteous self-importance and hate of “others who are not us” regardless of what they might do. It’s been said that this is possibly part of the ‘culture war’ that has been stoked by the likes of Facebook  – sorry, "Meta" – and others. Regardless, there are plenty of these kinds of people around and sadly the Internet provides several venues for them to be hateful in. It undoubtedly makes them feel better about their own rather shallow lives. Don’t be those people. On the other hand, don’t be the person who has to get their picture out there right away either. A little forethought might be a good thing in our rather judgmental world. Remember: there is a problem in using power tools (like chainsaws and such) when you are inattentive, and the Internet is most assuredly a power tool. It’s said the internet doesn’t forget (regardless of right to be forgotten laws) but there are reputation management companies such as ReputationDefender which try to work the algorithms used by search engines to make the ‘bad’ pages appear lower in the results list when a person’s name is searched for. It’s a good thing such companies exist: they are the handsome princes that we are lucky to have. If you’re interested, you can find a good article in the Guardian newspaper about the whole process here. The consequences of lies and anger on sites which encourage ‘friending’ and instant reaction have become ever more sorrowful, for instance in the killing of Samuel Paty). And before you think this is not about trust, it most certainly is, you just have to look at it properly. The father of the teen who lied and began this sorry chain of events reportedly said “It’s hard to imagine how we got here.” It really isn’t. That’s the problem. To be clear, things like attacking and defending reputation are sometimes deliberate and sometimes accidents. The way in which the system itself reacts is disproportionate (usually negatively) because of what it is: a collection of anonymous fools who should know better. The problem of course is that much of what I just wrote is normative. Your version of the truth or what matters will always be different from mine or anyone else’s. The trick with systems like this is to be your own person and not follow the crowd, even if it is noisy. I’ve talked about crowds before but it is good to remind you: the crowd is pretty much as smart as the stupidest person in it.

In a later post, I’ll explore this a little more. And some more stupid crowds. See you there…

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