Barbaric Communities

This sober post from Miguel Cornejo Castro about a very nasty attack on his online community (involving child pornography among other things) reveals (a) how the online environment has yet to be civilised and (b) how a firm hand, good intelligence and absolute determination are needed if your community gains any sort of public prominence on the internet. Miguel has clashed a couple of times with Dave Snowden on emergent approaches to communities, and interventionist type approaches. In this case, although it was not an internal community issue, I appreciate Miguel’s toughness.

7 Comments so far

Pornography justifies intervention Patrick - no sane people would say otherwise.

It does not justify the general paternalism of managing people’s conversations which was my original issue with Miguel

Posted on January 07, 2008 at 11:39 PM | Comment permalink

Patrick Lambe

As you know from the AOK affair I’m more of a libertarian than an interventioniast when it comes to internal community management.

However I was reflecting on two things arising from this case: first, there are probably clear circumstances where intervention is justified internally, those are the black and white cases, but how do you deal with the grey, and when do you know it;s time? Second, an avowedly libertarian community may not have sufficiently thought through the circumstances where intervention is justified, so as to make consistent judgments.

I’m actually still open minded on the earlier debate you had with Miguel on this because (a) he has a lot more experience in being responsible for communities than you or I and (b) your positions were so polarised that it was not possible to have the more nuanced debate that would be necessary to figure out a rationale for when and why intervention might be justified.

Posted on January 08, 2008 at 09:19 AM | Comment permalink

The grey is always the issue!  I think its the starting point that matters however.  One reason the debate was polarised (Miguel and I seem to get there faster than most) is a key difference.  Do you start with a presumption that people will sort things out or that they will need rules?  I think those who have over the years taken a more formal, structured approach tend to the latter, while those of us who take more fragmented, fluid approaches by necessity take take the former.  The system to some extent determines the behaviour.

Posted on January 08, 2008 at 02:46 PM | Comment permalink

Patrick Lambe

Agreed. But do you think that “interventionists” are better equipped to intervene in an aggressive determined and cohesive manner (because they’re used to it) than “libertarians”?

Posted on January 08, 2008 at 02:50 PM | Comment permalink

The opposite I would say, they believe it is necessary so will intervene more frequently.  I am not sure I like the “libertarian” label by the way.  I know that in another environment (this blog) I have (i) automatically deleted obscenity and (ii) on two occasions written to someone saying “If you want I will post this, but you might want to think twice”.  The facilitator here acts as a second chance.
If you think something is undesirable, then when you do act people will take more notice, and you will withdraw from intervention faster.

Posted on January 08, 2008 at 02:59 PM | Comment permalink


Hi Patrick, Dave,

thanks for the link.

Yes, we two do get heated rather fast, don’t we Dave grin ? Maybe it’s because we both believe in the importance of the basic ideas behind our disagreement.

On the other hand, I don’t think my approach is either paternal or dirigistic… on the contrary, I don’t ever micromanage and I tend to foster consensus in decision-making… even if I do take an active managerial role in shaping the resouce I manage.

What I do insist on is a consistent, coherent and sensible net of very basic rules and criteria: what are we here for, what is unacceptable behaviour. Dynamic, as lax as possible (which is never as lax as we’d like), and administered without any rigidity (which, let me tell you, puts a lot of strain and work on moderators to exercise good sense). But definitely enforced.

Whether such an attack could have been forestalled by a smaller team with less active methods, round-the-clock availability, close-knit communications and goal-driven selection of members (not to mention in-house lawyer)... is moot. The fact is that many other forums, most of them larger (in member numbers) than us, have been swamped and crashed with those methods. Some of them with professional staff and owned and run by ISPs. In previous (less barbaric but equally dumb) attack attempts, the same held true.

Casual gatherings of people swirling without clear goals or methods on some unmanaged online resource are targets for all sorts of predators. Not just barbarians: spammers, swindlers, molesters, trolls, impersonators, pirates… even abusive neighbours ( You need a friendly neighbourhood policeman nearby, one you can talk to and rely on to face down the louts, as well as help granny cross the road and point the way to the tourist. If it’s community policing, so much the better.

Or that’s the way I see it, at least grin.

Re our previous bone of contention, I’m happy to report that a very recent offline poll of readers and users of the forums involved found unanimous approval of the changes wrought and the evolution thereon wink. It was a blind poll too, the asker was not identified as a collaborator and the environment was not organised by us.

That doesn’t mean the rebellious moderator story ended well ( ).

Best regards,


Posted on January 08, 2008 at 07:45 PM | Comment permalink

I suppose it depends where you start from.  I probably question the need for any formal community (in terms of the functionalities around which we have disputed) given the capabilities of social computing.  Given that our positions probably develop accordingly.  Incidentally I am not surprised that you got the offline poll in approval.

Posted on January 10, 2008 at 03:08 AM | Comment permalink

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