Your Vulnerability Makes Me Trust You

posted by alex

There is a lot of talk is about digital ID these days and several proposed concepts are in a sense similar to social security numbers. In other words, digital ID is supposed to verify that you are actually you. From a trust perspective this is important since when you have the need/desire to interact with somebody but don’t have the time to establish direct interpersonal trust you need something to ease the uncertainty. The digital ID serves as a structure, an underlying institution that guerantees something about someone. An American social security number for instance provides information about the owner as being a part of American society but not really much more. What this can do is provide some verification that a person is who he/she claims but it says little else about the persons character.

However, knowing that somebody is a legal person that can be held accountable in the case of abuse certainly serves as an aid in e.g. a monetary transaction. However, it provides no help what so ever in a situation where the breach of trust doesn’t result in illegal activity. Think of somebody recommending you to download a piece of music–is your trust in this person and their taste of music really in any way affected by you knowing that their online pseudonym is actually connected to their “real name”? In this scenario, where the trust is on a social rather than transactional level, the verification that the digital ID provides has no meaning. Indeed, what we need in this case is a way of assessing the social identity of a person and this is done by observing how he/she acts and presents him/herself.

Sociologist Erving Goffman writes that we all have a wide selection of different performable social identities that we choose from depending on the context. His notion is that we perform a certain identity in a certain context and avoid situations where two contexts would cross since it would demand us to perform two identities at the same time. Danah Boyd applied this to the online world where contexts are constantly mashed up and the identity you chose to perform on one forum suddenly ends up on another one and thus in a different context. The problem in this is that you are being represented in a way you hadn’t intended. Had you been aware of yourself being presented in that context maybe you would have performed a different identity instead. In other words, in the online world you have little control over your performances and how and where you might be re-presented.

How I see this is that what happens when you are exposing a facet of your identity online is that you are making yourself socially vulnerable–you are exposing a certain side of yourself and know it might become represented out of context. I believe this type of vulnerability also makes you trustworthy. By exposing yourself, by being open to misenterpretation, you are demonstrating that you are comfortable with being inspected, discussed, dissed or remixed which at least to me, would make you a somewhat trustworthy figure. So, what I am interested in (this week!) is how the exposure of social identity and its inherent vulnerability could function as a catalyst of trust and thus increasing the trustworthiness of the exposed person.

August 1st, 2006

« Television vs Web 2.0 | The System of Reputation »

Leave a Reply