Pacifying the Algorithm – Anticipatory compliance in the face of algorithmic management in the gig economy
Peer reviewed, Journal article
MetadataShow full item record
Original versionOrganization. 2020, . 10.1177/1350508420961531
Algorithmic management is used to govern digital work platforms such as Upwork or Fiverr. However, algorithmic decision-making is often non-transparent and rapidly evolving, forcing workers to constantly adapt their behavior. Extant research focuses on how workers experience algorithmic management, while often disregarding the agency that workers exert in dealing with algorithmic management. Following a sociomateriality perspective, we investigate the practices that workers develop to comply with (assumed) mechanisms of algorithmic management on digital work platforms. Based on a systematic content analysis of 12,294 scraped comments from an online community of digital freelancers, we show how workers adopt direct and indirect “anticipatory compliance practices”, such as undervaluing their own work, staying under the radar, curtailing their outreach to clients and keeping emotions in check, in order to ensure their continued participation on the platform, which takes on the role of a shadow employer. Our study contributes to research on algorithmic management by (1) showing how workers adopt practices aimed at “pacifying” the platform algorithm; (2) outlining how workers engage in extra work; (3) showing how workers co-construct the power of algorithms through their anticipatory compliance practices.