EBay is finally confronting the “revenge problem” of negative feedback: almost nobody leaves negative feedback for sellers in fear of being retaliated against. I know I’ve bought from sellers who were terribly late or uncommunicative, who deserved at best neutral feedback. Instead, I just didn’t leave any feedback at all. Unsurprisingly, sellers are super pissed and are organizing a mass boycott against this and other new policies (including some shady sounding PayPal holds).
This edges up against two common themes of online communities: ownership and transparency. Who “owns” a community? Is it the company who runs it, and who invests in infrastructure, personnel, server costs, and maintenance, or is it the users, who make the community economically viable? LiveJournal and Digg have both seen very nasty fights over this issue in the last year, with users arguing that they should have a say in community policy-making, bringing us to transparency. Like it or not, online communities are usually supported by commercial structures, which replace democracy or constitutional politics with Terms of Service. These ToS can encompass everything from limiting political discourse to copyright infringement liability, and they are always tipped in favor of the company that writes them.
This is why making claims about the internet as “democratic” space are always problematic.
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