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Ethics and Information Technology

, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 343–355 | Cite as

The entanglement of trust and knowledge on the Web

  • Judith Simon
Article

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Knowledge Recommender systems Trust Wikipedia Web Algorithmic authority Epistemic practices Socio-technical epistemic systems 

Notes

Acknowledgments

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).

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut Jean Nicod, Ecole Normale SupérieureParisFrance

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