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A Case for Social Discrimination

About a year ago I created my very own store on Amazon.  I had a bunch of books I'd never gotten around to reading and just wanted to get rid of them.  As each order would come in I would diligently package my books and drop them in the mail.  Then I would notify the recipient that their book had been shipped—all on the very day I would receive the order.  My customer service was spectacular!  The rave reviews started rolling in.  A PERFECT 5 STAR RATING!  YES!  And then it happened.  But how could this be?  My 5 star rating all of a sudden dropped down to a 4.2?  Somebody gave me a 1-star rating and said that they would never order from me again.  But why?  I mean, I did everything perfectly.  I followed up on the orders, made sure they were addressed properly.  All deliveries were made in record time.  After a thorough investigation, I discovered that the person who gave me a 1-star rating had been maliciously slamming sellers all over Amazon, for no apparent reason.  I was just his next victim.  I contacted Amazon and requested that the rating be removed due to this person's pattern of destructive behavior.  They told me that there was no way to remove a rating, and that this unfortunately was how the system worked. 

In the United States, it's written right into our Declaration of Independence-- “All men are created equal.”  I believe in equality for all people, and the American way of life.  But beyond the basis of equality, everyone has a particular standing in their respective communities.  Everyone has varying degrees of impact or ‘weight'.  In your local ‘real-world' community, if you are a citizen, if you are highly active, if you are popular, if you're connected, if you are charitable, if you are highly involved and a major contributor, if your contributions are held in high regard-- you have impact—you have ‘weight'—your community most likely looks up to you.  And if you are an introvert, if aren't known in your community, if you aren't actively involved, if you're not connected, or if your contributions are looked down upon-- your voice is virtually unheard and you are most likely not held in high regard.  This is how it works in the ‘real world' right?  So why is it in cyberspace we allow inactive citizens, non-citizens (non-members, illegal immigrants?) and even rogues to impact the value of our contributions and reputations?  Why is it we give inactive citizens and rogues equal footing with hard-working diligent citizens?  To ratings systems we're all just citizen ‘X'.  Regardless of our standing in the community, our impact when rating things is equal.  We may be very popular and we may be recognized by our constituents within our respective communities, but with today's rating systems that unfortunately does not transcend into any kind of power or leverage when rating things.  These aren't popular voting systems; they're ‘rating' systems.  Shouldn't these super-citizens be rewarded with some kind of super-delegate status?  I mean, after all, didn't they earn that privilege?

I've been a long-time proponent of more intelligent, more relevant online communities.  One of my biggest areas of ‘rant' is in the area of ratings.  I want ratings to have more value and I want them to be self-policing.  To create value within a system of ratings, a system of inequality must be developed.  If a person is highly active in their online community, if they are held in high regard because they contribute often, if they're connected, and the respective value of their contributions is high, the impact of their voice should be greater—the impact of what they rate should be greater.  And the converse-- if a person is a schmuck, if they rarely (if ever) contribute, and if the value of their contributions is low, their voice should be little-to-none—and the impact of what they rate should be lower.  Anyone new to the system still gets to vote, and they're voice is heard, they're just in the middle somewhere.  This type of system would reward those who are hard-working and diligent and it would provide incentive for members in a community to be actively involved and to provide more and better contributions—and the ratings and reviews would be far more valuable to the viewing audience.  A system like this would also prevent, or at least diminish the impact of those whose only goal is to be destructive.  We've seen a few folks in the general market playing with reputation scores.  Naymz and Rapleaf are two such companies.  Admittedly I haven't explored just how an entire company could be formed around this, and how it might be monetized, but I do see reputation scoring as a feature of any site that has membership and/or community.  Besides, we're all used to this type of a system.  If you want to have more credit, be more active and diligent.  If you want to have a louder voice and more impact, do good stuff more often.  To quote from Orwell's classic Animal Farm, “ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL, BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS.”

Join The Conversation

  • Jul 14 Posted 9 years ago SolShane (not verified) Social discrimination already exists on the internet, in social media and its subset of social networking. Sometimes for reasonable reasons. Sometimes for entirely unreasonable ones. And don't worry, as money flows to social media marketing the jobs will be created and reputations maintained.  Did this bad rating you mention actually cause your small Amazon e business to lose a lot of money? Its not like someone went on line and called you out for transferring technology for a rocket motor to Iran and now you face sanctions, big lawyer bills and can't do business anymore.  This is really an issue that turns on social psychology and social anthropolgy. As Ted Gurr of the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton posited long ago, your guy who gave you the bad rating has the luxury of living in a society that elects to mediates the physical violence out of relative deprivation with tools like the Constitution, the Bill of Rights. And as you aptly point out, those with the big money, can retain the growing online security and reputation management firms to shut the doors on their gated communities.  Shrug

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