Flagging and Tagging: when social software goes anti-social


Tribe.net is about to find out how well its members behave when tasked with self-policing their behavior. The phenomenon of the “hacker ethic,” and of normative claims successfully organizing online communities even without legal or policing forces in place, are well documented. But the requirement for success is often population homogeneity. Tribe.net’s audience is diverse indeed, though tending towards playa dust and chains. Its diversity seems protected by a common attitude towards online community participation, and that’s one that has worked so far at Burning Man: “let’s get it together, people.”

I do think we’re somewhere between Woodstock and Altamont, and personally, I hope the summer of social software love is not about to crumble at the threat of litigation and assimilation into mainstream culture. Flagging can quickly become a social sport itself, and it can kill a community by driving away those it needs the most. Flagging gives normative authority to all, which permits plebes to call in their masters, footsoliders to topple knights, and all to be equal when in fact some are more equal than others.

As a gesture, flagging is a high impact feature. It’s a slap that’s heard around the world, and if it’s not controlled (as are, say, challenges given to coaches in pro football — limited challenges; limited flags thrown?), it’s a slap that gets out of hand.

Normative authority should only be claimed in sincerity. It is not normally a move that can be returned or reciprocated (you can’t apprehend an officer back). Since online communities must give each member the same normative authority, flagging runs the risk of disrupting the very (fragile) social order that’s taken so long to emerge. But such is a democracy. Let’s see if such a thing can exist.

From Tribe Admin, December 14
“Currently, the tribe.net community relies mainly on tribe members to voluntarily abide by the Terms of Use with respect to content that’s posted on the site. We believe it will be better to *also* give members the ability to flag (and ultimately remove) content that is prohibited by the Terms of Use. In effect, the responsibility will be shared by everyone, as with any healthy community.

We’re excited about these changes because we think it will give tribe members ultimate ownership for the content on the site, and help maintain Tribe as a positive, respectful environment for people of different points of view.”

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