PLATFORM COUNTERPUBLICS: GOSSIP & CONTESTED KNOWLEDGE ABOUT ONLINE LABOR PLATFORMS
As commercial platforms mediate large swaths of online markets for information and services, scholars have shown how users resist, or work around these opaque digital environments. From content producers to Uber drivers, digital laborers are particularly adept at appropriating and gaming platforms like YouTube, and Uber (Chen 2017; Duffy 2017; Rosenblat 2018). Often described as “multi-sided markets,” platforms bring together many different kinds of stakeholders, including consumers, workers, advertisers, and regulators (Gillespie 2010; Lingel 2020). However, investigations of working alongside algorithms have so far focused on workers’ relationship to algorithms, and neglected other stakeholders. Extending counterpublics theories (Warner 2002; Fraser 1990), we examine over 3,000 online reviews of a labor platform, Care.com, finding that both workers and clients use gossip to create a platform counterpublic that constructs a counternarrative about platform business practices. While previous studies suggest that different platform stakeholders have conflicting interests, we find that platform counterpublics draw both workers and clients together to draw boundaries demarcating acceptable platform business practices. Second, we point to the implications of platform counterpublics for the investigation of platform labor and algorithms. Consumer reviews of platforms are absent from critical literature on labor platforms. By bringing together scholarship on counterpublics with critical literature on labor platforms, this paper offers a relational approach to platforms.