Solidarity and collective voice in the platform economy

Philipp Lorig, Chemnitz University of Technology
Markus Hertwig, Chemnitz University of Technology
Manuel Holz, Chemnitz University of Technology

The paper proposed here addresses new forms of interest representation of online labour-crowdworkers, facilitated by specialized internet platforms. Specifically, our research focuses on communication processes between crowdworkers and their practices of “voice”.

Some of those platforms have gained much attention recently, e.g. turkopticon, which is a platform designed to enable communication between independent crowdworkers working for amazon mechanical turk, one of the biggest platforms for crowdsourcing and online labour. Other platforms also provide information and communication channels, but generally, online discussion-forums are built by crowdworkers themselves and rarely, the crowdsourcing platforms offer blogs or discussion spaces.

Such platforms, online discussion forums and the exchange between crowdworkers can be understood as a response to the various issues facing workers in specific segments of the digital economy. These include a broad spectrum: one may differentiate between performance-related issues (when dealing with certain tasks, e.g. with regard to the correct handling of certain tasks) and conflict related issues such as discrimination on the part of the contractors (e.g. “wage theft”, when retaining remuneration for services rendered, which is possible in case a provider classifies a service as "unsatisfactory" and an arbitration instance is missing).

The paper pursues the following questions:

  1. Which forms of exchange between crowdworkers can be identified on online labour-internet platforms? To what extent do the practices oscillate between “assistance in performance related issues” and “collective voice” or “conflict”?
  2. Under what conditions are the different practices developing? Which factors promote or aggravate the development of shared definitions of probabilities, interests and ultimately common forms of action?
  3. To what extent are platform-mediated patterns expressions of solidarity between crowdworkers?

By making use of webscraping techniques we extracted unstructured data of platform users in form of discussion posts on eight selected forums connected to amazon mechanical turk. To identify relevant forum entries for the analysis we apply a filtering-based approach via multiple search word lists.

Preliminary findings and interpretations of our merged empirical data which show the possibilities and limits of “voice” and collective interest-representation on individualized online-labour- platforms will conclude our proposed paper.