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Twenty thousand posts under the SE(++), or, Emergent group dynamics in online communities

TossrockTossrock too weird to livetoo rare to dieRegistered User regular
edited February 2012 in Social Entropy++
So, Reddit recently changed its policy on posting suggestive pictures of underage girls from "well, okay, it's not illegal I guess?" to "you know what, no. Just no." There is significant kerfluffle regarding it due to the issues involved: freedom of speech, what constitutes acceptable behavior online, the recent foment of anti-reddit sentiments, etc.

What a lot of people don't realize, though, is that this same story gets played out on every large scale online community. There is a classic pair of documents from one of the very first MOOs (an object oriented MUD) which discusses it: LambdaMOO Takes A New Direction. I highly encourage everyone to read the whole thing, but the summary is as follows: as the community grew, the admins became increasingly burdened by constant requests, and decided to push social decisions (what we would probably now consider moderation) off on the userbase. This was announced with the LTAND message. A choice quote:
LTAND wrote:
Of course, during this whole time, we were fighting an increasingly losing battle, to control and accomodate and soothe a larger and larger, more and more complex community. We were trying to take responsibility for, now, the behavior and mores of over 800 people a week, connecting from almost 30 countries of the world. We were frustrated, many of the players were frustrated; the center could not hold.

You can probably see where this is leading.

I realize now that the LambdaMOO community has attained a level of complexity and diversity that I've actually been waiting and hoping for since four hackers and I first set out to build this place: this society has left the nest.

I believe that there is no longer a place here for wizard-mothers, guarding the nest and trying to discipline the chicks for their own good. It is time for the wizards to give up on the `mother' role and to begin relating to this society as a group of adults with independent motivations and goals.

So, as the last social decision we make for you, and whether or not you independent adults wish it, the wizards are pulling out of the discipline/manners/arbitration business; we're handing the burden and freedom of that role to the society at large. We will no longer be the right people to run to with complaints about one another's behavior, etc. The wings of this community are still wet (as anyone can tell from reading *social-issues), but I think they're strong enough to fly with.

Interesting enough on its own, certainly, but the real kicker is the results of the experiment: complete failure. Here again, quotes tell the story.
On December 9, 1992, Haakon posted 'LambdaMOO Takes A New Direction' (LTAND). Its intent was to relieve the wizards of the responsiblity for making social decisions, and to shift that burden onto the players themselves. It indicated that the wizards would thenceforth refrain from making social decisions, and serve the MOO only as technicians. Over the course of the past three and a half years, it has become obvious that this was an impossible ideal: The line between 'technical' and 'social' is not a clear one, and never can be. [...]

In particular, we henceforth explicitly reserve the right to make decisions that will unquestionably have social impact. We also now acknowledge that any technical decision may have social implications; we will no longer attempt to justify every action we take.

After trying to step back and allow the community to run itself, the admins found that it was impossible to disentangle technical decisions from social decisions, and that having a source of ultimate responsibility for the community was unavoidable. Essentially, users could not be trusted to run things themselves, because they were assholes and fucked it all up. It should not require a tremendous stretch of the imagination to see how this applies to the current situation at reddit.

Here's another interesting speech that relates to the phenomenon of group dynamics in online communities: http://www.shirky.com/writings/group_enemy.html Again, I highly encourage all of you to read it.

In it, the speaker brings up a study from the 1950s where a psychologist was working with a group of neurotics. He (the psychologist) found that neurotics worked as a group to nullify the effects of the therapy they were receiving. This led him to write a book about group dynamics, wherein he listed three central patterns that could be thought of as the minimum-energy state of groups, the ground level to which unmoderated groups naturally sink:
The first is sex talk, what he called, in his mid-century prose, "A group met for pairing off." And what that means is, the group conceives of its purpose as the hosting of flirtatious or salacious talk or emotions passing between pairs of members.

You go on IRC and you scan the channel list, and you say "Oh, I know what that group is about, because I see the channel label." And you go into the group, you will also almost invariably find that it's about sex talk as well. Not necessarily overt. But that is always in scope in human conversations, according to Bion. That is one basic pattern that groups can always devolve into, away from the sophisticated purpose and towards one of these basic purposes.

The second basic pattern that Bion detailed: The identification and vilification of external enemies. This is a very common pattern. Anyone who was around the Open Source movement in the mid-Nineties could see this all the time. If you cared about Linux on the desktop, there was a big list of jobs to do. But you could always instead get a conversation going about Microsoft and Bill Gates. And people would start bleeding from their ears, they would get so mad.

If you want to make it better, there's a list of things to do. It's Open Source, right? Just fix it. "No, no, Microsoft and Bill Gates grrrrr ...", the froth would start coming out. The external enemy -- nothing causes a group to galvanize like an external enemy.

So even if someone isn't really your enemy, identifying them as an enemy can cause a pleasant sense of group cohesion. And groups often gravitate towards members who are the most paranoid and make them leaders, because those are the people who are best at identifying external enemies.

The third pattern Bion identified: Religious veneration. The nomination and worship of a religious icon or a set of religious tenets. The religious pattern is, essentially, we have nominated something that's beyond critique. You can see this pattern on the Internet any day you like. Go onto a Tolkein newsgroup or discussion forum, and try saying "You know, The Two Towers is a little dull. I mean loooong. We didn't need that much description about the forest, because it's pretty much the same forest all the way."

Try having that discussion. On the door of the group it will say: "This is for discussing the works of Tolkein." Go in and try and have that discussion.

Any of these sound familiar? Has anyone here sentkeithamessage.jpg recently? Or gone incandescent with rage against the evangelical movement (I know I have). Regardless, if you talk shit about achewood, I will kill you.

Anyway, I think this all leads to some very interesting questions – if groups will naturally devolve into these states without careful gardening, where do we draw the line for our garden? Reddit chose to draw it at sexually suggestive young girls, but they're playing whack-a-mole. By banning one content category that certain aspects of the group find distasteful, while not outright illegal, they invite closures of others. Indeed, people are already calling for the closure of other reprehensible subreddits, such as those dedicated to violence against women, dead bodies, etc.

Here, we have recently been pushing for tighter gardening, the most obvious sign of which is the Glorious Edict. While this has generally improved discourse, I wonder if the lower barrier to entry is unquestionably good. In the same speech, Shirky identifies several things to design for in social software, one specifically being barriers to entry:
Three, you need barriers to participation. This is one of the things that killed Usenet. You have to have some cost to either join or participate, if not at the lowest level, then at higher levels. There needs to be some kind of segmentation of capabilities.

Now, the segmentation can be total -- you're in or you're out, as with the music group I just listed. Or it can be partial -- anyone can read Slashdot, anonymous cowards can post, non-anonymous cowards can post with a higher rating. But to moderate, you really have to have been around for a while.

It has to be hard to do at least some things on the system for some users, or the core group will not have the tools that they need to defend themselves.

In short, if you don't place some barriers to entry, the wrong sort of people will start entering. The harsh way illiterates were treated in the past served as one barrier to entry, which helped perpetuate the group culture. As that behavior has waned, has too the culture? I personally think that the current moderation system we have in place is pretty effective, but I also note that most of the people I started posting with are gone, now.

So what do you all think, SE++? How does a group maintain identity and freedom over time without succumbing to either eternal September or fascist moderation? Have we succeeded here? And most importantly, cocks, dicks, or lols?


on a completely unrelated note, TWENTY THOUSAND POSTS ZKjKT.gifZKjKT.gifZKjKT.gif
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Tossrock on
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    PharezonPharezon Struggle is an illusion. Victory is in the Qun.Registered User regular
    Banning child pornography sub reddits was the correct thing to do and banning the other awful reddits is also good. Fuck the patriarchy. PEACE.

    jkZziGc.png
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    UbikUbik oh pete, that's later. maybe we'll be dead by then Registered User regular
    you're right, there is too much sex talk on the internet

    l8e1peic77w3.jpg

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    UsagiUsagi Nah Registered User regular
    I think any group's identity and culture is more fluid that we'd like to think--people come and go and forum policies and posting trends change over time. There has definitely been a shift in culture in SE in particular in the past couple of years, whether that's entirely up to how our mods are handling things or just the fact that the majority of us are getting older and have different interests/concerns, who knows. Do I agree with every rule and policy that the admins and mods have implemented recently? Not really, but it seems to be working for the community, and I'll likely keep posting until that changes.

    Also: cocks forever.

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    DurkhanusDurkhanus Commander Registered User regular
    How many Rocks could Tossrock toss, if Tossrock could toss rocks?

    I don't think that group identity in these circumstances can be maintained without having things swing to anarchy or to strict moderation. There is too large a pool of people interacting, without the same consequences of interacting face-to-face, to not have it go either way.

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    ButtlordButtlord Fornicus Lord of Bondage and PainRegistered User regular
    It should also be noted that the "reddit" group identity (talking about reddit as a whole and not specific pieces of it) is largely composed of different versions of things that other communities did first

    Rage comics were a 4chan thing, notably

    And the "when does the narwhal bacon" "secret code" was a deliberate attempt to recreate SA's "Do you have stairs in your house/I am protected"

    This isn't really a bad thing, it's just kinda funny considering that the site itself is based around aggregating existing content

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    MorivethMoriveth BREAKDOWN BREAKDOWN BREAKDOWN BREAKDOWNRegistered User regular
    Usagi wrote:
    I think any group's identity and culture is more fluid that we'd like to think--people come and go and forum policies and posting trends change over time. There has definitely been a shift in culture in SE in particular in the past couple of years, whether that's entirely up to how our mods are handling things or just the fact that the majority of us are getting older and have different interests/concerns, who knows. Do I agree with every rule and policy that the admins and mods have implemented recently? Not really, but it seems to be working for the community, and I'll likely keep posting until that changes.

    Also: cocks forever.

    Counterpoint: Dicks forever

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    WeaverWeaver Who are you? What do you want?Registered User regular
    This happened like, four months ago or something. Why is it all big news again?

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    ArtreusArtreus I'm a wizard And that looks fucked upRegistered User regular
    Moriveth wrote:
    Usagi wrote:
    I think any group's identity and culture is more fluid that we'd like to think--people come and go and forum policies and posting trends change over time. There has definitely been a shift in culture in SE in particular in the past couple of years, whether that's entirely up to how our mods are handling things or just the fact that the majority of us are getting older and have different interests/concerns, who knows. Do I agree with every rule and policy that the admins and mods have implemented recently? Not really, but it seems to be working for the community, and I'll likely keep posting until that changes.

    Also: cocks forever.

    Counterpoint: Dicks forever

    Fuck you, dick sympathizer!

    http://atlanticus.tumblr.com/ PSN: Atlanticus 3DS: 1590-4692-3954 Steam: Artreus
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    ArtreusArtreus I'm a wizard And that looks fucked upRegistered User regular
    Weaver wrote:
    This happened like, four months ago or something. Why is it all big news again?

    That was one subreddit that just got shut down.

    A whole lot of jailbait themed subreddits popped up in their place. Something Awful forums got up in arms and got a lot of people motivated to get them shut down. It took about 12 minutes. Instead of just closing the subreddits down so a lot more can replace these ones, they now have a rule stating "okay how about just no sexualization of minors, period"

    http://atlanticus.tumblr.com/ PSN: Atlanticus 3DS: 1590-4692-3954 Steam: Artreus
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    FishmanFishman Put your goddamned hand in the goddamned Box of Pain. Registered User regular
    Tossrock wrote:
    Here's another interesting speech that relates to the phenomenon of group dynamics in online communities: http://www.shirky.com/writings/group_enemy.html Again, I highly encourage all of you to read it.

    I thought it was interesting reading down on this thing, where he starts talking about self policing and core users and gardening and then applying that over Anonymous and wondering about the implications.

    X-Com LP Thread I, II, III, IV, V
    That's unbelievably cool. Your new name is cool guy. Let's have sex.
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    ButtlordButtlord Fornicus Lord of Bondage and PainRegistered User regular
    Weaver wrote:
    This happened like, four months ago or something. Why is it all big news again?

    It happened yesterday actually

    Four months-ish ago, people raised a stink and reddit closed one jailbait subreddit

    A million others stayed opened or opened in the wake of r/jailbait closing

    ABout two days ago SA's reddit-mocking thread went "you know what? No, fuck this" after stumbling across a dude talking about seducing his eleven year old daughter

    The next morning a big ol' copy-paste thing had been assembled, with links and all, to be mailed to media, law enforcement, PTAs, whatever

    Twelve hours later reddit said "no more jerking it to kids"

    Now how well that's enforced remains to be seen, and shit like r/beatingwomen needs to go too, but this is a good start

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    JarsJars Registered User regular
    edited February 2012
    while I'm not particularly familiar with the game there's some new mmo called tera coming out with a nekogirl race(elin), and there was plenty of nerd rage to go around when the NA crew censored their outfits which generally consisted of thongs.

    so uh pervs gonna perv it up I guess

    Jars on
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    WeaverWeaver Who are you? What do you want?Registered User regular
    Damn.

    I only go in /r/funny, politics, video, f7u12, and science

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    marty_0001marty_0001 I am a file and you put documents in meRegistered User regular
    edited February 2012
    I think the community we have here is very well established at this stage. If you've been here a while you can look at the front page of SE, and recognise almost all of the names in the "Last post by" column. The majority of members all know how to behave, and so when new members come in they either conform or they don't like it and leave.

    There's also an incentive to behave because everyone has an individual identity and a reputation with it. Unlike Reddit where you don't recognise any of the users as regulars or long-time members. In SE if you're a massive dick then you're frequently ridiculed until you stop posting, because people recognise users and say "Oh it's THAT guy again". So I think everyone wants to a) protect their own reputation and b) maintain the awesome community that's been built up over the years.

    edit: Also helpful: the aloof but iron-fisted rule of Our Lord Tube

    marty_0001 on
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    ButtlordButtlord Fornicus Lord of Bondage and PainRegistered User regular
    Also the SA thread re: reddit taking down pedo shit is absolutely fantastic and resulted in GBS being renamed r/3DBabyWieners for a time

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    FishmanFishman Put your goddamned hand in the goddamned Box of Pain. Registered User regular
    It used to be interesting back in the day when post counts were hidden and Ramius would drop by and just start posting statdumps on who the biggest posters were, who had the most posts recently, where they were active, that sort of thing. I always found the demographics of the community fascinating.

    X-Com LP Thread I, II, III, IV, V
    That's unbelievably cool. Your new name is cool guy. Let's have sex.
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    marty_0001marty_0001 I am a file and you put documents in meRegistered User regular
    Fishman wrote:
    It used to be interesting back in the day when post counts were hidden and Ramius would drop by and just start posting statdumps on who the biggest posters were, who had the most posts recently, where they were active, that sort of thing. I always found the demographics of the community fascinating.

    Me too

    Sometimes you will see an article about things people are posting on twitter and what the statistics mean

    I want that stuff happening for the forums

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    BucketmanBucketman Call me SkraggRegistered User regular
    I think our little community works well because we have our Mods, and they do not mother us. We know if we step out of like they will smack our shit up. Its good, and most of us don't hold them personally accountable for it. Hell, all of our mods are cool dudes and engage in conversation/games with us, but at the end of the day they are in control and its completely ok. Someone needs to be or this place would be full of porn pics, spam, and racists.

    Also, I send Keith a message all the time.

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    Munkus BeaverMunkus Beaver You don't have to attend every argument you are invited to. Philosophy: Stoicism. Politics: Democratic SocialistRegistered User, ClubPA regular
    edited February 2012
    I wrote a thesis about interactions in online communities about four years ago.

    I've also had the pleasure of being a mod here for about 8 years and seen a huge variety of moderating styles.

    What I'm saying is that if I could concentrate, I'd have a lot to say in this thread.

    EDIT: also I was a camp counselor. You'd be amazed at the crossover between effective management tactics.

    Munkus Beaver on
    Humor can be dissected as a frog can, but dies in the process.
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    BucketmanBucketman Call me SkraggRegistered User regular
    Munkus, if you ever get time, I would love to hear your opinions at some point.

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    BersheliBersheli Registered User regular
    edited February 2012
    More importantly, should subreddits such as "dead bodies" be banned if they are what is really required to make people realize the cost of war ala videos such as "3 guys, one hammer" (please don't look that up).

    Or is it all about intent; which leads us to the age old question of how do you prove intent?

    Bersheli on
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    AbracadanielAbracadaniel Registered User regular
    I wrote a thesis about interactions in online communities about four years ago.

    I've also had the pleasure of being a mod here for about 8 years and seen a huge variety of moderating styles.

    What I'm saying is that if I could concentrate, I'd have a lot to say in this thread.

    EDIT: also I was a camp counselor. You'd be amazed at the crossover between effective management tactics.

    smores solve all problems

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    Munkus BeaverMunkus Beaver You don't have to attend every argument you are invited to. Philosophy: Stoicism. Politics: Democratic SocialistRegistered User, ClubPA regular
    Bersheli wrote:
    More importantly, should subreddits such as "dead bodies" be banned if they are what is really required to make people realize the cost of war ala videos such as "3 guys, one hammer" (please don't look that up).

    Or is it all about intent; which leads us to the age old question of how do you prove intent?

    You don't handle internet communities like you handle a government. There's a reason why I have the incompetence = malice quote in my sig at all times.

    Humor can be dissected as a frog can, but dies in the process.
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    Tommy2HandsTommy2Hands what is this where am i Registered User regular
    oh god three guys one hammer is so bad

    I found it randomly while just surfing some other forum I think

    what the fuck

    8j12qx8ma5j5.jpg
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    JavenJaven Registered User regular
    Yep, ban inappropriate content and anyone who defends it

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    AbracadanielAbracadaniel Registered User regular
    someone tell me that this hammer thing is, in brief

    is it someone being killed with a hammer

    why would you want to watch that

    @mensch-o-matic tumblrerered something a couple days ago

    stop watching shock stuff people

    breaks your brain

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    ButtlordButtlord Fornicus Lord of Bondage and PainRegistered User regular
    It's literally a video of a (I think Russian) dude being beaten to death with a hammer

    Or is that the screwdriver one

    Maybe they're the same!

    There's also a 911 tape floating around of a woman being murdered while on the phone with 911 that's a "hoot"

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    mensch-o-maticmensch-o-matic Registered User regular
    Smart Hero wrote:
    someone tell me that this hammer thing is, in brief

    is it someone being killed with a hammer

    why would you want to watch that

    @mensch-o-matic tumblrerered something a couple days ago

    stop watching shock stuff people

    breaks your brain

    oh dang was it super bad ;w; sorry i try to keep it pg/pg-13 but i get careless!

    and it was guros and fanfics what broke me

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    Tommy2HandsTommy2Hands what is this where am i Registered User regular
    the one I saw involved both an icepick and a hammer so

    8j12qx8ma5j5.jpg
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    BucketmanBucketman Call me SkraggRegistered User regular
    The first time someone showed me reddit, I was at a friends house and he said "Hey you guys should check out this sweet video I found!" it was linked from Reddit, and it was a guy being held down by two others while his throat was slashed open with a knife and he bled to death.

    I don't go to Reddit much now, nor talk to that friend.

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    TossrockTossrock too weird to live too rare to dieRegistered User regular
    I wrote a thesis about interactions in online communities about four years ago.

    I've also had the pleasure of being a mod here for about 8 years and seen a huge variety of moderating styles.

    What I'm saying is that if I could concentrate, I'd have a lot to say in this thread.

    EDIT: also I was a camp counselor. You'd be amazed at the crossover between effective management tactics.

    I'd be interested to hear your thoughts!

    sig.png
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    AbracadanielAbracadaniel Registered User regular
    Smart Hero wrote:
    someone tell me that this hammer thing is, in brief

    is it someone being killed with a hammer

    why would you want to watch that

    @mensch-o-matic tumblrerered something a couple days ago

    stop watching shock stuff people

    breaks your brain

    oh dang was it super bad ;w; sorry i try to keep it pg/pg-13 but i get careless!

    and it was guros and fanfics what broke me

    no i meant the article on cracked! that watching and being unfazed by awful things was not some kind of proof of how cool or what a veteran Internet Person you are

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    mensch-o-maticmensch-o-matic Registered User regular
    ohhh good

    and yeah that was a really good quote im glad its making the rounds

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    ArtreusArtreus I'm a wizard And that looks fucked upRegistered User regular
    I wanna see this article

    http://atlanticus.tumblr.com/ PSN: Atlanticus 3DS: 1590-4692-3954 Steam: Artreus
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    Munkus BeaverMunkus Beaver You don't have to attend every argument you are invited to. Philosophy: Stoicism. Politics: Democratic SocialistRegistered User, ClubPA regular
    Tossrock wrote:
    I wrote a thesis about interactions in online communities about four years ago.

    I've also had the pleasure of being a mod here for about 8 years and seen a huge variety of moderating styles.

    What I'm saying is that if I could concentrate, I'd have a lot to say in this thread.

    EDIT: also I was a camp counselor. You'd be amazed at the crossover between effective management tactics.

    I'd be interested to hear your thoughts!

    The curtain of anonymity brings out a person's true self. You will find plenty of people who are softspoken and meek in regular social settings but are boisterous assholes online. The excuse "but they are decent guys in person" is actually a fallacy. The consequences of behaving 'how you want' in person are put into check by the immediate consequences of that behavior. Anonymity is thus less of a catalyst for people to behave like jerks, but a symbol of freedom from consequences.

    As a result, people are much more likely to reveal their deepest, dark secrets to online communities they barely know than to a close-knit circle of real life friends. People come out of the closet, reveal fetishes, and overall just behave how they wish they could behave a lot more readily. In one group I studied, you had two guys who were similiar personalities in real life, meek and softspoken, but online one was a jerk and the other was polite and quiet.

    So yeah, the mask you wear is when you are surrounded by consequences, not the silly way you behave when you are online.

    As a result, the most effective way of policing an online group and maintaining order is to create a community. You want people to develop persistent personas to the degree that they will care what people think of them in future reactions. You also cannot take a hands off approach, unless you want to be in a community of bitter assholes. Like minds attract like minds, and community approval will be the driving factor to how new people will behave and what they will view as positive or negative consequences of their actions.

    Humor can be dissected as a frog can, but dies in the process.
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    IpseDixitIpseDixit Treat me like a pirate And give me that bootyRegistered User regular
    Holy shit the mobile view is different

    Attack of the giant avatars

    ipsesignew.jpg
    Flickr - PSN ID - IamTetsuo - Steam
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    ArtreusArtreus I'm a wizard And that looks fucked upRegistered User regular
    I never really got the whole acting way different online thing.

    I'm pretty sure I'm about the same on or offline

    http://atlanticus.tumblr.com/ PSN: Atlanticus 3DS: 1590-4692-3954 Steam: Artreus
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    WimbleWimble Registered User regular
    shock videos and images really bum me out

    even just thinking about people sharing them and enjoying them makes me feel very sad

    4SMZq.jpg
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    Muse Among MenMuse Among Men Suburban Bunny Princess? Its time for a new shtick Registered User regular
    for how long has the faux-homosexuality been a thing? It developed way too organically for me to be able to pinpoint.

    Fauxmosexuality.

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    Munkus BeaverMunkus Beaver You don't have to attend every argument you are invited to. Philosophy: Stoicism. Politics: Democratic SocialistRegistered User, ClubPA regular
    Artreus wrote:
    I never really got the whole acting way different online thing.

    I'm pretty sure I'm about the same on or offline

    Consequence free behavior.

    If you had the opportunity to steal a million dollars and you knew you never would be caught, would you take it?

    If you would, then fear of consequences affects your decision making on stealing.

    Humor can be dissected as a frog can, but dies in the process.
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