The Unethics of Sharing: Wikiwashing

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Citation: Mayo Fuster Morell (2011/09) The Unethics of Sharing: Wikiwashing. International Review of Information Ethics (RSS)


Tagged: Sociology (RSS) wikis (RSS), Wikipedia (RSS), flickr (RSS), google (RSS), yahoo (RSS), youtube (RSS)


Through "virtual ethnography, discourse analysis and a total of 25 interviews carried out from 2008 to 2011" author identifies practice of "wikiwashing" engaged in by corporations that run services facilitating sharing, collaboration, or collective action, in order to obfuscate unethical practices and exploitation of users. Practices identified include 1) corporations promoting themselves as technological tools rather than as corporations 2) promoting a neutral concept of technology 3) describing themselves as equal to other non-profit or empowering platforms 4) presenting themselves as community friendly 5) frame their actions in terms of sharing and 6) promote the aesthetics of the playground. Author writes that users are relatively unaware of problem, corporations unmotivated by competition to improve, users who do feel abused have limited options, and the "novelty" of new economy services limits effective regulatory system response.

Theoretical and practical relevance:

Author's blog post at

Wikiwashing has clear analogues in corporate-hosted open source software projects.

Role of open standards/federation/free/open source software/data portability -- as market and regulatory mechanisms, in contrast to direct competition with and regulation of platforms -- and competitive service provision by communities and non-profits to limit problems of wikiwashing ought be explored.