The entanglement of trust and knowledge on the Web
In this paper I use philosophical accounts on the relationship between trust and knowledge in science to apprehend this relationship on the Web. I argue that trust and knowledge are fundamentally entangled in our epistemic practices. Yet despite this fundamental entanglement, we do not trust blindly. Instead we make use of knowledge to rationally place or withdraw trust. We use knowledge about the sources of epistemic content as well as general background knowledge to assess epistemic claims. Hence, although we may have a default to trust, we remain and should remain epistemically vigilant; we look out and need to look out for signs of insincerity and dishonesty in our attempts to know. A fundamental requirement for such vigilance is transparency: in order to critically assess epistemic agents, content and processes, we need to be able to access and address them. On the Web, this request for transparency becomes particularly pressing if (a) trust is placed in unknown human epistemic agents and (b) if it is placed in non-human agents, such as algorithms. I give examples of the entanglement between knowledge and trust on the Web and draw conclusions about the forms of transparency needed in such systems to support epistemically vigilant behaviour, which empowers users to become responsible and accountable knowers.
KeywordsKnowledge Recommender systems Trust Wikipedia Web Algorithmic authority Epistemic practices Socio-technical epistemic systems
I would like to thank the three anonymous reviewers as well as Noah Holtwiesche, Gloria Origgi and Roberto Casati for their feedback on earlier versions of this paper. The research for this paper was enabled by several grants: the ANR2008 grant (Agence Nationale de la Recherche, France) CSOSG- CAHORS for a Project on a “Information Evaluation, Analysis, Organization and Ontologies for Intelligence and Security”, the project LiquidPub, funded by the Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) Programme within the 7th Framework Programme for Research of the European Commission (FET-Open grant number: 213360), as well as a research scholarship from the University of Vienna, Austria for a project on notions of knowledge, sociality and trust in social epistemology and social software (Project number: F-405).
- Adler, J. (2006). Epistemological problems of testimony. Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/testimony-episprob/. Accessed 28 May 2010.
- Borland, J. (2007). See who’s editing Wikipedia: Diebold, the CIA, a Campaign. Wired, http://www.wired.com/politics/onlinerights/news/2007/08/wiki_tracker?currentPage=1. Accessed 28 May 2010.
- Bowker, G. C., & Star, S. L. (1999). Sorting things out: Classification and its consequences. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Chi, E. H., Suh, B., et al. (2008). Providing social transparency through visualizations in Wikipedia. Florence, Italy: Social Data Analysis Workshop at CHI 2008.Google Scholar
- Fricker, E. (2006). Testimony and epistemic autonomy. In J. Lackey & E. Sosa (Eds.), The epistemology of testimony. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Hawking, S. W. (1998). A brief history of time: From the big bang to black holes. New York: Bantam Book.Google Scholar
- Hume, D. (1748/1957). An enquiry concerning human understanding. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
- Keen, A. (2008). The cult of the amateur. New York: Doubleday.Google Scholar
- Kitcher, P. (1993). The advancement of science. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Longino, H. E. (2002). The fate of knowledge. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
- Massa, P., & Avesani, P. (2006). Trust-aware bootstrapping of recommender systems. Riva del Garda, Italy: ECAI.Google Scholar
- Massa, P., & Avesani, P. (2007). Trust metrics on controversial users: Balancing between tyranny of the majority and echo chambers. International Journal on Semantic Web and Information Systems (IJSWIS), 3(1), 39–64.Google Scholar
- Massa, P. & Bhattacharjee, B. (2004). Using trust in recommender systems: An experimental analysis. iTrust2004.Google Scholar
- McLeod, C. (2006). Trust. Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/trust/. Accessed 20 October 2009.
- Origgi, G. (2008). Trust, authority and epistemic responsibility. Theoria, 23(1), 35–44.Google Scholar
- Reid, T. (1983). Inquiry and essays. Indiannapolis: Hackett.Google Scholar
- Shapin, S. (1994). A social history of truth: Civility and science in seventeenth-century England. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
- Shirky, C. (2009). A speculative post on the idea of algorithmic authority. http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2009/11/a-speculative-post-on-the-idea-of-algorithmic-authority/. Accessed 26 May 2010.
- Sperber, D. & Clément, F. et al. (to appear). Epistemic vigilance. Mind and Language.Google Scholar
- Strawson, P. F. (1974). Freedom and resentment. Freedom and resentment and other essays (pp. 1–25). London: Methuen.Google Scholar
- Suh, B., Chi, E. H., et al. (2008). Lifting the Veil: Improving accountability and social transparency in Wikipedia with WikiDashboard. 26th annual ACM conference on human factors in computing systems. Florence, Italy, NY: ACM.Google Scholar