What the English riots teach us about community

by Martin Reed on 10 August 2011 in Snippets

The mindless criminality in England has now spread from London to Manchester, Salford, Liverpool, Nottingham and Birmingham. Unrest is taking place exclusively (according to news reports) in the cities. Where are the reports of small coastal communities being ransacked? Where are the reports of cars in rural villages being set on fire?

The fact is, disorder is far more likely to take place in huge communities – places that afford anonymity. If you misbehave in a community where most people are strangers, you can’t be ostracized. There is no perceived social stigma attached to your actions since you don’t know the people who disapprove of what you’re doing. Why should you care what strangers think?

This is one reason why keeping your online community small is a good idea. If you can’t resist the temptation to grow, make sure you have a robust strategy for growth. A small community where everyone knows each other is always going to be a far more positive environment than a large community full of strangers.

If you manage a large community, work hard to bring members closer together. Divide the community up into smaller groups to maximize the number of relationships that are formed.

Relationships are the key to your community’s survival.

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Dan Thornton August 10, 2011 at 7:06 pm

Whilst there’s a certain logic in your point, I’d debate that it’s simply the size and anonymity of a large group that leads to disruption and unrest.
For starters, there’s a difference between anonymity and pseudonimity. I’ve used the same online nickname for about 7 years or so, and it’s tied to me across so many social networks, Google searches and other platforms, that anything I do under that name reflects on me as much as when I use my real name.
Secondly, although social shame plays a part in behaviour, it’s also very much about social imitation – whether your community is large or small, if you see a number of your peers doing something, it’s likely to encourage you to join them, whether that’s good or bad, and no matter how you then post-rationalise it. So a small community engaging in bad behaviour is just as likely to produce results, and then to gain a larger following from elsewhere

Martin Reed - Community Manager August 11, 2011 at 10:42 am

I agree that over time, a pseudonym can build enough social currency for people to want to protect their reputations. However, this only really comes into play if the pseudonym is recognized by enough people, which is less likely in a large community.

I agree with your point about social imitation – that’s something all community managers need to be aware of. Thanks for your contribution.

jennifer K. August 12, 2011 at 7:10 am

It’s all about connection. If people know you and you know them, even if only by name, misconduct is unlikely to happen.

Alease Michelle August 16, 2011 at 6:13 am

Thanks for sharing your perspective. I believe if we align with the spirit within us—you will only find love—love of yourself, of others, of the moment, etc.. This will help you to remain authentic to who you are and what you believe and will help you remain congruent with your actions.

Jan Rollinson August 25, 2011 at 11:19 am

Peer pressure is ultimately the issue here.
If television selects to interview and air young people, particularly girls, glamorizing the
rioting then they will immediately validate the action to those sitting on the fence.
The reaction (real or perceived) of girls to the riots will determine whether the young men
feel the action it worth it or not.
Our media has perhaps the biggest role to play here, not the police or social workers or even parents.

Nonoy January 6, 2012 at 4:39 am

I very much agree that a small community with friendly, warm and united people are better than a large one with indifferent people.

Insightful post. Looking forward more of these in the future. Hope this blog updates more. Cheers!;-)

Ian Morris March 9, 2012 at 4:38 am

I do agree that it is a great challenge to build harmonious large communities. However, just like you said if you put extra effort in getting to know one another then eventually misunderstandings would lessen and placing some ground rules I think would be of great help.

Mark March 13, 2012 at 9:23 am

I think you’re right. In the big cities like here in London no-one knows who anyone else is.

And half the people are afraid of the other half. A bit depressing.

A small community is much easier because people care a bit about their reputation.

Tommy T May 8, 2012 at 10:35 pm

Yes, I found once my old community started growing at a rapid rate, disorder and chaos quickly damaged both the general atmosphere of the site, and member relations amongst staff.

When the community was tight knit, a little mayhem and Anarchy was good. Everybody knew each other, most of them laughed and joined in, and I’m pretty sure most of them knew, or at least suspected the weird trolls were just me playing about anyway and they genuinely enjoyed it.

But once the community started growing, and I’m not even talking a few users here, once I’d gotten into DMOZ, ran a Adsense campaign, the site had been live a couple of years, we suddenly went from 50 users visiting the chat rooms to hundreds within weeks and complete chaos broke out. Members were suspecting of others members of being new members who were genuine members so flamed the regular members for being rude, staff were stressed and wanted more powers of removal and started getting a bit peeved at me for my policies of leniency as the last thing I wanted to do was stifle freedom of speech and suppress banter, newer regs accused the staff of being biased towards the original regs and then of course, we developed the one thing I promised everyone FC would never develop, and was one of the main reasons I created the community in the first place to avoid…… the dreaded cliques! The community became segregated beyond repair.

Basically, I think this is an issue most online communities face. The age old dreaded “old regs vs new regs”.

So this time around in my new project, I will be prepared and stimulate community growth at a much slower rate, but more importantly, ensure I have the infrastructure ready and the community’s mind-set on par with mine to deal with the growth, and of course, this time – lead by example.