Trust and Mistrust in Digital Societies
The research project aims to study the impact of trustworthiness as a broad cross-cutting theme traversing today’s digital societies. The project does not consider modern digital technologies as an explanatory variable. Rather, it views them as having fashioned novel social realities in which age-old problems related to trust play out in different ways, with different actors, different incentive structures, different coalitions of interests, different rules, and different stakes.
In today’s world, we can collectively know, communicate, and remember on an unprecedented scale; in such a complex, technological environment generalized social trust is indispensable. Yet, opportunities for the abuse of trust are rife, and mistrust itself can be weaponized for personal or group advantage. The questioning of trustworthiness has established itself as a default conversational norm in many aspects of life.
The project will focus on eight issue areas in contemporary society where dynamics of trustworthiness are particularly apparent in their connection with information technology:
- Surveillance and digital archives
- Information and the public sphere
- Organizational behavior and reputation
- Domestic politics and elections
- Comparative and international policy-making
- International relations and power politics
- Online sociability and community
- Political economy and visibility
In each of these issue areas, the project considers which elements related to social trust are most noteworthy, which mechanisms are activated in order to bolster the trust of individuals and organizations, and vice versa which forces seek to gain strategically from encouraging mistrust.
In general, trustworthiness is envisaged as a reputational claim made by individuals or groups, explicitly or implicitly: how well such claims fare in social interaction represents the stakes of the trustworthiness game. In turn, reaction to trustworthiness claims can come in the form of words or deeds, which need not necessarily be aligned with each other. This divergence is fairly familiar to us in the case of expressions of belief matched with actions that belie mistrust; however, under present conditions the opposite configuration, in which the voicing of mistrust is coupled with actions taken “as if” one trusted, is arguably just as prevalent. Exploring the implications of this latter stance for public discourse and belief systems is one of the major axes of the research project.