Saint Louis University Law Journal
Within this Article, I elaborate on the term “crowdwashing,” a neologism. Even though many online platforms describe themselves as “communities” that are part of the “sharing economy,” this “sharing” terminology is largely a misnomer when describing the activities of larger commercialized on-demand platforms. Rather than referring to volunteer efforts for collective benefit, many references to “sharing” in the “sharing economy” refer to the concept of commodification of previously underutilized assets. For example, consider receiving money for the rental of a spare bedroom through AirBnB or the sale of small, previously unproductive periods of time to complete tasks on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. In these examples, what is “shared” is the previously unproductive asset or wasted time, and then technology is used to value and monetize that asset. There is nothing of altruism in this.
Even though describing something vastly different from what most people believe actual “sharing” to mean, the term “sharing economy” has provided a halo effect for platforms, even though some platforms engage in hyper-commodification. Unfortunately, the language of “sharing” serves to cover up many of the problematic labor practices that are a common experience of many crowdworkers today. In this context, the terminology of sharing has moved from reality to what might be, at best, empty rhetoric, and, at worst, a strategy used to evade minimum regulatory standards in the areas of tax, tort liability, and labor and employment law. Indeed, the “sharing” doublespeak has been so effective that it took years for many to recognize that there was a labor and employment problem with the work structures created by the platforms. And it is not just the platforms themselves that have been misnamed. Platforms refer to their workers as “Ninjas,” “Turkers,” “Rabbits,” “Taskers,” and even, perhaps most pathetically, “Friends”— almost any term will do, except “employees.” Indeed, as set out below, an entire alternate vocabulary of terms including “onboarding” and “deactivation” are standing in for labor and employment legal terms like “hiring” and “firing.” And this artful terminology is being used to cover up abusive labor practices.