Is a DAO a Panopticon?

Algorithmic governance as creating and mitigating vulnerabilities in "Decentralised Autonomous Organisations"

Kelsie Nabben
August, 2021

Algorithm reputation systems in blockchain systems:

“I’m becoming concerned that DAOs are just labour camps” I remarked in passing at the beginning of a call. “More like social credit systems” replied Rich Brown, former technical community lead at MakerDAO Foundation (aka. chief cat herder – responsible for engagement and incentives in a large-scale DAO). The phrase stuck with me.

“Wait it’s all coordination? Always has been”.
A Tweet by Kevin Owocki (@owocki), Co-founder of Gitcoin, now GitcoinDAO.

“Trust level – Basic”

I first noticed I was being covertly monitored in the panopticon when I was reading a forum post on “Discourse”, a popular blockchain forum for governance discussions. On Discourse, users must create a log in to contribute posts, comments, or “reactions” to posts in the form of heart emojis. I was reading a forum post when the notification popped up *ding*, “You have been awarded Trust Level 1 – Basic”. It was then that I realised, I’m being monitored. By following the Terms & Conditions of Discourse, I learned that I had either entered at least 5 topics, read 30 posts, or spent a total of 10 minutes reading posts. I now had the power to flag posts and mute other users in the system that was designed to “sandbox” new users and grant more experienced users more rights. If I can now just read 100 posts, or spend a total of 60 minutes readings posts, I would be able to “ignore other users” and even edit my own posts for up to 30 days after posting. I understand why these kinds of rules exist in virtual spaces and that establishing reputation and trust in pseudonymous spaces is hard. Perhaps, this is why similar algorithmic reputation mechanisms are being adopted in a number of blockchain communities.

These experiences, along with months of observation and engagement with DAOs led me to investigate the question, is a DAO a Panopticon? This granularity of digital surveillance was the panopticon that the Cypherpunks were seeking to mitigate. The following paper explores the idea of “autonomy” in autonomous systems, and what self-governance means in practice in DAO trust, reputation, and governance with and of algorithms.

Continue reading at:
Nabben, Kelsie, Is a DAO a Panopticon? Algorithmic governance as creating and mitigating vulnerabilities in "Decentralised Autonomous Organisations" (August 18, 2021). Available online:

“We made the system, we can make a new one”.
Github issue by Jeff-Emmett entitled “PRAISEMAGGEDON #5”.