Platform-mediated Markets, Online Freelance Workers and Deconstructed Identities

Isabel Munoz, Michael Dunn, Steve Sawyer, Emily Michaels

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


We advance the concept of deconstructed identity to explain how online workers' identities are being reshaped, diminished and controlled by digital labor platforms. We focus on online freelance workers and contribute to contemporary conceptualizations regarding worker's self-presentation. The empirical basis for our analysis and theorizing build from two rounds of a longitudinal panel study of online freelance workers and their interactions with online labor platforms. Findings illuminate how online freelancer's identity presentation is constrained by the structuring of their profile, the ratings and client feedback, the algorithms used by the digital platform, and platform's terms of use. Data demonstrate that workers' profiles are focused on skills, reflecting the realities of competing for work in under-regulated labor markets. Study participants report the centrality of client and platform ratings of their work, and the need to manage client feedback and ratings as a core part of their online identity presentation. These findings suggest that, far from a subjective and personal story, a freelancer's identity on a digital labor platform is better understood as a standardized depiction of skills, ratings, and metrics controlled by platform algorithms. Coupled with use policies and evolving platform designs, this platform control creates what seems to be a form of indentured servitude. We further note online freelancers both recognize this control and resist their deconstructed identity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number367
JournalProceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction
StatePublished - Nov 11 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • algorithmic control
  • freelance work
  • gig economy
  • identity management
  • online identity
  • platforms
  • upwork

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Networks and Communications


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