In social networks the default assumption is good behaviour

Clay Shirky has an article in Wired at the moment (on the iPad version and not the web version, as far as I can tell) in which he makes the following statment:

In social media the design case that has worked remarkably well is to treat good faith as the normal case

I like that a lot.  Regular readers will know that I’m hopeful that social media will be a force for good in society, helping people form more and better relationships and increasing the importance of integrity in both social life and business.  Shirky’s observation provides a partial explanation as to why – if the default assumption is honesty, people and companies who don’t don’t play fair will find that social media doesn’t work for them.

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  • Alan Gleeson

    Hi Nic

    I think there are a few bigger issues here – one relates to the balance between anonymity and trust. If there are lax rules re anonymity it increases the incentive for opportunism/bad behaviour etc. If you can get away posting as anonymous234 or using an email [email protected] it is easier to SPAM , post low value content. game systems etc

    I feel sites like Gumtree suffer from this issue where as engaging with real people with verifiable real persona leads to better quality interaction and a more trusting environment. All social media outlets have issues with this be it Twitter celeb names being hijacked, or false product critiques by competitors rating your product on Amazon (or hotel owners gaming TripAdvisor) . Alan Gleeson

  • Alan_Gleeson

    Hi Nic , how is this reconciled with the inherent difficulty with social media in terms of a branded party (the company) often engaging with what is often an anonymous entity? Given that a cloak of anonymity enables the person to attack brands for strategic reasons (e.g. -ve comments say via Amazon ratings), game ratings (Tripadvisor), post poor quality content/SPAM/link bait (given they can do so at no cost) or hijack identities (Twitter) I feel an assumption of good behaviour should be premised on whether or not there is an ability to verify who is exactly talking to whom. Make sense?

    Alan Gleeson

  • Hi Nick, Emergence, for me, is really about culture formation. Culture can be shaped through the behaviour of community leaders. However, this can come under serious stress as communities grow (as you point out in your previous comments) and cultures compete, club and/or collapse. What happens to good faith as communities rapidly scale and how can it survive growth?

  • Intersting article. Confirms my experience. A few years back, disillusioned with an over moderated game community, I started my own at http://coltsplayground.net (i'm Colt Seavers when gaming; don't ask). The psychology was partly an experiment along these lines. I made 'valued member' the default state – gave everyone who joined us Admin on all servers and invited them to use free resources to design game levels and make Machinima. Positive reinforcement was king, and trust implicit, until broken.

    Far from the chaotic squabbling and flaming of the previous community, our philosophy 'Treat this place like a mates lounge. Show each other friendly respect and have fun' struck a chord. It was a triumph. Too much of one in fact – I ended up closing that community because it grew too fast and I didn't have the time to put the required effort in. The philosophy lives on at my new game community – but we tend to keep it quiet; Dunbars number can have uncontrollable effects on coherent interpersonal relationships in any online community – and we have no wish to be of mass and for profit – just to enjoy gaming online without the lunacy prevalent on many public games servers.

  • I like the sentiment and yet would like to see more of us who are involved in social media taking the initiative to set quality standards and safeguards. I am in the process of setting up a working group of social purpose businesses and social enterprises (amongst others) who would like to give some shape to integrity via self-regulation. This would appear particularly relevant to those of us who wish to transform public service provision through social media. If anyone is interested give me a shout.

  • Hi Jenny – thanks for the thought. If you haven't read it Steven Johnson's Emergence is well worth a read on the regulation and self regulation of communities. I wrote a little about it a year or two back – http://www.theequitykicker.com/2007/02/01/musin

  • Thanks Colt, very interesting.

  • Alan_Gleeson

    Hi Nic , how is this reconciled with the inherent difficulty with social media in terms of a branded party (the company) often engaging with what is often an anonymous entity? Given that a cloak of anonymity enables the person to attack brands for strategic reasons (e.g. -ve comments say via Amazon ratings), game ratings (Tripadvisor), post poor quality content/SPAM/link bait (given they can do so at no cost) or hijack identities (Twitter) I feel an assumption of good behaviour should be premised on whether or not there is an ability to verify who is exactly talking to whom. Make sense?

    Alan Gleeson

  • Hi Alan – having real identity makes all these things a lot easier. It is no accident that two of the worlds most popular socnets are predicated on users using their real identity – LinkedIn and Facebook. I think we will see more of this.

  • There are many who abuse anonymity. However, anonymity is critical in some communities. For example, we are a community of people who cannot share their anxiety/depression/stress etc with others for fear of stigma and impact on lives/careers/relationships. I do not think anonymity and good behaviour essentially work against each other. Much depends on the culture that is created.

  • Great question! I think the experience of many is that as you grow
    the need for formal rules increases. Unfortunately i think the
    majority of communities fail to make the changes necessary to ensure
    their survival.

  • Hi Alan – sorry to only get to this now. Disqus hid your comment from me until today.

    The issue of good behaviour and anonymity is a complex one to be sure, but I think for most sites most of the time you are right to say that using a real identity leads to better quality interaction.