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Thread: What you write doesn't represent me as an mTurk worker, so don't pretend it does

  1. #1
    Community Manager spamgirl's Avatar
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    Aug 2011
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    Exclamation What you write doesn't represent me as an mTurk worker, so don't pretend it does

    Guesses have been made at the number of workers on mTurk. Some say there are 10,000 active workers, but their data only covers the US. I have crunched my own numbers and estimate a maximum of 3,000 workers on forums at any given time, and 40,000 active workers on mTurk. Many of those workers are in India, approximately 40-50% of the workforce may hail from there, although this number has been dropping since July 2012 when Amazon stopped allowing international signups. A smaller percentage hails from other countries outside the US. Within the US itself, people hail from every state, from Georgia to California.

    For people in India, mTurk is often a primary source if income, so their voice must be heard about wants, needs, and suggestions. Any changes that are made to mTurk or ideas for new tools, websites and forums must consider their situation. That said, they are not represented on forums (Milland, K. (2014). Indian Turkers: Shining a Spotlight on the Invisible Masses. Unpublished manuscript.) nor do you hear from them in media accounts of life on mTurk. That means as much as half of all Turkers are currently unable to voice their opinions on the platform and their use of it. That means they are not a part of the discourse of mTurk.

    For a smaller segment of workers, including myself, our voice as non-Indian international workers is often unheard as well. We represent the segment on mTurk who do not receive currency for our hard work, but instead are forced to shop at the company store. There are less of us as this is not an optimal situation, and the few of us who remain are likely some of the most die-hard workers on mTurk. In fact, some of the best activist campaigns I've seen so far, those with the highest rate of success, have come from "Gift Card Workers", even though it doesn't gain them more "cash". Their voice is often ignored as most academics and journalists want to focus on those who "do this for a living," meaning they are not a part of the discourse on mTurk.

    Focusing back on the US, most workers are also not represented in discussion of mTurk. Those with social anxiety may not be able to speak to a reporter, let alone post on a forum. Those who do this for a living are too busy trying to get work done and make money to have time to be seen by a filmmaker or post socially in a community. These are the people for whom mTurk is vitally important, potentially the only job they can hold due to poor career options where they live, disability, past convictions, mental and physical health issues, or caring for a loved one who takes so much of their time it does not allow them to work outside the home. They have medical debt, a mortgage, or food costs that are only getting higher. Since they are so busy working, they are also not part of the discourse on mTurk.

    The largest percentage is the saddest percentage in many ways: the migrant workers who come and go each month. As many as 70% of workers will try mTurk and then leave in a six-month period, although my belief is that those turnover numbers are also accurate at 30 days. These people are hard to sample as they come and go so quickly, meaning any discussions we have, be it with a journalist, filmmaker, academic or otherwise, is unlikely to represent their needs. These are people who are missing something, otherwise they would stick around. They aren't making enough, can't easily find tools on their own, never make it to one of the communities, find the reputation of mTurk too repugnant to make it a job they are proud of, or just find mTurk itself to be too difficult to use. This group of people is in the most dire need of being "tapped" for information in order to stem this hemorrhaging of potentially great workers, but so far we haven't had the ability to poll them directly. Until we figure out how, no one should be writing anything that claims to be representative of workers. We must start including the disappearing masses in the discourse around mTurk.

    That leaves a small percentage of all workers, a few hundred people, who are outspoken enough to discuss the situation on mTurk with the media, academics, Amazon itself, and each other. They provide suggestions on forums about how they want things to change, or how to work better, or who to work for, or which tools to use. They join sites like We Are Dynamo and try to create campaigns that will better the lot of all Turkers. They even speak to journalists about what it's like to be a Turker. The problem is that the media, academics and Amazon claim them to be representative of all Turkers. This small, outspoken group who is forming the little discourse we have about Turking is considered to represent every last one of us. Those in India with a lower cost of living who use mTurk as their sole source of income as their culture, religion, few local job openings, language barriers or lack of education hold them back from having work outside their home. Those outside of India who do this for gift cards, not cash. Those who have to Turk so much, since pay is so low and options are so limited, that they don't have time to read articles about mTurk, let alone give their opinions. Those who are unable to share their opinion out of fear that they will be ridiculed. Those who never even know that there is a discourse to join as they become frustrated so quickly. The outspoken Turkers who likely have our best intentions at heart may speak loudly and tell their truth, but they do not speak for all of us.

    mTurk is a great tapestry of people, each section totally different than the next. Some are happy with $3 an hour, others work for no less than $6, many $12 and some $20. Some of us use Turking to buy a car or go on a trip, while others cannot eat if there are no HITs to do. Some of us fight hard to get our cheques in the mail, others have the luxury of bank transfers, and some of us are only able to buy from Amazon and pay huge shipping costs, further whittling down the value of our work. There is nothing you can say, no truth you can present, no set in stone rules about what all of these people want that can truly represent the needs and wants of all of them.

    There is one thing we all want, and that is for mTurk to get better. How that can happen, how we can contribute to this change, is also not set in stone. We should not limit the discussions to a single voice, and that is the beauty of our communities. There is a place for everyone, be it on a forum, Facebook group, or internet cafe. We find our coworkers and endeavor to learn from each other, whether it be by lurking in the shadows and watching or reaching out and sharing what we know. We all work together to make more money, spend less time on invisible work, and better our reputation as workers. Until you spend a month in our shoes, every pair that each individual wears, you can never say anything that represents us all. Why people are so convinced that creating texts that do represent us I don't understand, but the time is now to stop trying. Let us speak for ourselves in our own way and in our own communities. You can write a paper or article about what we discuss, suggest or scream at the top of our lungs on forums, but then you must send anyone interested in learning more directly to us. Let us tell our own story and keep it evolving through our forums, Facebook groups and other places we gather. Don't try to set it in stone since it changes day by day. And please, don't say what you write is representative of all of us. It represents your perspective, but our perspectives remain our own.
    It's all good.

  2. #2
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    I really have to agree that there is a small minority of workers who care enough to voice their opinion and all too often, it represents a view that can only be formed after years of experience and focuses on their own agenda.

    The constant influx of new workers and the lower wage standards in some international countries are what scumbags like Jon Brelig survive on pushing out tens of thousands of underpaid HITs each week that no one would work on otherwise. These voices are rarely heard but are a huge percentage of workers on Mturk.

    The international turkers that are not based in India have been dwindling to almost nothing over the past few years. Trying to publish regional studies outside of the USA and India is next to impossible on Mturk now. But many of these workers survive and are still present, (forum owner not excluded).

    My opinion is my own and I cannot speak for any other workers, all I can do is work myself to make Mturk a place that benefits all workers. I will not speak to the media or answer any surveys that have qualifications attached to them that aim to quantify mturk workers.

  3. #3
    Member Robby's Avatar
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    Sep 2014
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    I wish I could be of help but me being so new I don't feel I have enough experience or knowledge of the situation to speak for us. I do agree that I stay so damn busy trying to scrounge up a few pennies during the day I'd never have enough time to really study up and become knowledgeable enough to represent us. I am one of the turkers who is desperately trying to earn a living for my family while trying to tend to a handicapped daughter at the same time. What pay I have earned has barely gotten us through the hard times of the winter months but it has at least got us through it. This forum is where my voice is heard, I do not frequent any other sites for work. So if I am able to help through this site please let me know anytime Spamgirl! I'm definitely here to help, just not sure what I can do
    It's Hard Work Turking, so don't think I'm lurking, I'm just working!

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