More than 15% of Americans have earned money from an online gig platform.
Using these platforms is integral to many people’s everyday lives, but critiquing and pushing back against these companies’ policies can be difficult, especially when platforms like Uber, Lyft, and Instacart have the money and the PR teams to shape the public conversation around gig work and gig workers’ rights, says Julia Ticona, assistant professor of communication at the Annenberg School for Communication.
Ticona’s recent study, co-authored with Annenberg doctoral candidate Ryan Tsapatsaris and published in the International Journal of Communication, examines the spaces that domestic gig workers, who are less studied than their rideshare or food delivery counterparts, use to discuss their uncensored experiences with the site Care.com, one of the largest online platforms used by nannies, housekeepers, babysitters, and senior caregivers to find work.
The researchers discovered stories from domestic workers in an unlikely place: not on popular social media platforms, but on consumer review sites. On these sites, stories from workers are interposed with stories from the people who hire gig workers, something not often seen with other types of gig work.
Unlike Facebook groups for Postmates couriers or subreddits for Uber drivers, these makeshift communities on review sites include groups that experience separate sides of the platform—gig workers and those looking to hire them.
As a former gig worker himself, Tsapatsaris was used to finding and using online spaces to discuss the hassles of working with these huge online corporations, so he went on the hunt for places beyond social media.
Tsapatsaris employed some sleuthing skills and found discussions about Care.com happening on odd places—review sites like TrustPilot and Better Business Bureau.
The researchers found thousands of reviews from workers and customers spread out across the internet. Many of these reviews read like narratives, they say, and prompted other reviewers to take action against the platform.
“Somehow, people had created this community on consumer review sites,” Ticona says. “They were trying to find other people who had had the same experience as them.”
The researchers call this community a “counterpublic”—a place where marginalized voices can publicize, discuss, and debate issues that are important to them that are otherwise not being talked about.
After analyzing more than 2,000 posts from six different review sites, the researchers found that the workers’ and clients’ reviews frequently overlapped on three topics: background checks, communication fees, and the platform’s subscription model.
“This thing that we call platform studies has become pretty specialized in terms of the type of platform that people study,” Ticona says. “One of the goals of this paper was to bring this idea of a counterpublic—a shared theoretical tool that we can all use to understand these companies better and critique them in a better way as well.”
This story is by Hailey Reissman. Read more at Annenberg School for Communication.