Jäkälä and Berki, in their paper titled “Communities, Communication and Online Identities” identified five types of cyber-identities and their characteristics. This week, we look at eponymous identities and how real-life scenarios may differ from what theories say about trust and these sort of identities.
Eponymous communication is associated with higher levels of trustworthiness and credibility as users can be identified, and what they say online can affect their offline reputations. However, in the case of accommodation crowd-sourcing site AirBnB, eponymous communication may actually have an adverse effect.
Trust is of utmost importance for AirBnB users, where travellers seeking accommodation are matched with local hosts.
To quell the fears of staying in a stranger’s house, Airbnb allows users to authenticate their identity via offline and online means. Offline, users submit a visual of their driving licence or passport as identification. Online, users link their Facebook and LinkedIn accounts to form a consistent identity. Airbnb then checks if these identities match.
These eponymous identities have reputations built out of continuity, where travellers leave reviews on hosts’ page after a stay, and hosts can do likewise. Theoretically, open identities and high disclosure breeds trust within the community. However, this is not always the case.
Airbnb is flooded with positive reviews, but these are not necessarily accurate. With publicly visible profiles, hosts and users feel the need to “save face” and project a positive image to other hosts and guests they might possibly have dealings with in the future. These eponymous identities give rise to reciprocal social exchanges, where reviews brimming with positive feedback are exchanged, causing ratings to be inflated.
This leads to reservations by many towards using Airbnb. With no mechanism or moderator to check the accuracy of reviews, how then are we going to judge the reliability of curated information on Airbnb?