5/29/2007

Online Communities: Government

The task of maintaining order within any community is difficult. Authority figures are often not trusted by community members (Govier, 1997). For better or worse, the Internet carries the stigma of being filled with anarchists, deviants and trouble-makers, and lacking in any sort of moderate voice (Wallace, 1999). Communities do thrive however, so there must be some method of bringing order to chaos.
Online communities will therefore usually have a form of government. These governments are made up of community moderators and site administrators. Governments are almost never democratic in nature. They more often conform to a type of benign dictatorship or aristocracy. The primary role of an online community government is to facilitate communication. This involves site maintenance, performed by the administrators, and police work, performed by community moderators.
If one accepts Machiavelli’s advice that "the people ask nothing but not to be oppressed," then as a community leader, one must ensure that no oppression occurs (Machiavelli, 1505). Flame wars, trolling (inciting someone to anger), sexually explicit behaviour, and hate speech all fall under the category of oppression in the online community (Wallace, 1999). The community leader must recognise the fact that if the behaviour of a certain customer will drive the majority of other customers away, then suitable action must be taken (Stewart, 1999). Such action may include the removal of certain privileges or banning from the community altogether.
The community leader must accept responsibility for the rules of the community. An excessive use of rules may have the opposite effect: they may instead serve as another form of online oppression and drive customers away. Community rules must facilitate the creation of a positive environment.


Govier, T. "Social Trust and Human Communities," copyright 1997, McGill-Queen's University Press
Machiavelli, N. "The Prince," written c. 1505, published 1515, copyright renewed 1980, Penguin Books, U.S.A
Stewart, T., A. "Intellectual Capital," copyright 1999, Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc.
Wallace, P. "The Psychology of The Internet," copyright 1999, Cambridge University Press

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