Trust is not a one-size-fits-all concept. It is constructed and produced in ways that serve some communities, and exclude others. And as data-driven and algorithmic systems continue to be essential, if often unseen, underpinnings of our social, economic, and political lives, many of our current technological systems are designed in ways that inspire mistrust.
How people come to trust one another, trust in numbers, and trust in democratic processes is shaped by how both social and technical systems are configured and how they function. In other words, trust is a sociotechnical phenomenon. How are trust and safety encoded in our sociotechnical systems? And who has the power to decide?
In order to create trustworthy infrastructures, we believe it’s critical to approach this work from the perspective of marginalized communities that are disproportionately harmed by the status quo. Over the past half decade, many skilled and thoughtful research groups and individuals have documented what online spaces look and feel like when they are not trustworthy: mis- and disinformation spreads; marginalized communities are targeted with abuse and harassment; privacy is compromised; data is insecure. But as a research field, we know far less about how communities create economic, social, and political life in these untrustworthy spaces. What might be possible if trust was not merely a value claimed by powerful institutions, but understood and explored as a risky, imperfect practice?
Building on Data & Society’s early work on mis- and disinformation, and a robust body of work by an array of our peer organizations and individual researchers, under this program we seek to gain a clearer picture of emerging approaches to building trust online, and the possibilities they set in motion. Centering the work of people of color and members of vulnerable communities, we produce empirical research to shape the development of trustworthy infrastructures and the policies and regulations that govern them. We use that research to put forth new sociotechnical solutions, and to draw attention to the kinds of solutions communities actually need tech companies and policymakers to enact.