A Lesson In Community

imageCall it a rookie mistake.

As a new blogger I know I still have a lot to learn and this past week I got served up quite a lesson. Just as I normally do, I developed my content and posted it on the website Reddit in a topic area where I thought it was most likely to attract attention. Normally when I do this I am gratified with a temporary spike in page views and some good feedback. Last Monday I got nothing. No hits, no referrals, nada. Now I know I’m no Keynes or Hayek but I thought that the economic effects of local currency would at least solicit a reaction from economists. A few days later I tried again, this time posting in another topic section, and again I got nothing. I messaged the moderator about it and found out, to my surprise, that I had been shadow banned from the site for spamming! Now when I think of spam, I think of my email junk folder – full of unwanted advertisements and emails from foreign princes. But Reddit’s definition was really interesting: basically someone who is using the site to promote themselves without otherwise contributing to the community. Per their self-promotion policy, the posting of original content is permitted but only as a privilege to those posting and contributing more that than.  Knowing I was guilty as charged and in need of reconciliation, I started thinking about the broader attributes of community life.

  • The Relationship Between Self & The CommunityAdam Smith’s Invisible Hand is based on the incredible notion that acting in our own interests will end up benefiting the community as a whole. Yet I think we have all experienced just how destructive a person who’s just in it for themselves can be to a community. In the end, I think the relationship that strikes the right balance between the interests of self and the interest of community is the kind of love described by Karol Wojtyla (who went on to bigger things) in his book Love and Responsibility,

“Man’s capacity for love depends on his willingness consciously to seek a good together with others, and to subordinate himself to that good for the sake of others, or to others for the sake of that good.”

  • Diversity & Common Ground– Obviously there’s a lot of diversity on Reddit – it is “the front page of the Internet”, after all – but that only makes a common set of ground rules for everyone to play by all the more important. Diversity is important to community because, frankly, it makes it interesting but certain limits are often needed to ensure that the common and unifying desired experience is being had by all. In the case of Reddit, for example, you can’t be selling anything or harassing others. Guidelines such as these may be mistakenly perceived as suppressing diversity but are essential to the accomplishment of the community’s purpose.
  • Enforcement of Rules / Rights & Responsibilities– Rules are useless unless they’re enforced, and enforcement requires some type of authority structure with the ability to make judgments and the tools to administer appropriate responses. On Reddit, users can report those they feel aren’t following the rules (me, apparently) to a moderator/administrator who then has the authority to mete out punishment (shadow banning). Every community needs some form of this authority, however informal, and it’s interesting to note that there are often layers of it. To participate in the Reddit community, I have to abide by their rules. Reddit, as a member of a community itself, is only allowed to operate because they abide by the laws of the state and country that govern it. At the highest levels these rules are enforced by the police and courts and control of these rules is what elections (hopefully) or wars (in the worst cases) determine. 

  • Right to Define Leadership & Membership: In order to maintain the integrity of the community that community must define membership and pick the rules that govern it. Interestingly, the topic of leadership is a big controversy at Vanderbilt and other colleges as the right of a student group to pick leadership based on its own values is being challenged. On the one hand it is up to the university to define the parameters of its own student groups. On the other hand, since leadership determines so much about the community, it’s not difficult to understand why the groups are putting up such a fight.

So in the end, tail between my legs, I apologized for my mistake and promised Reddit to be a better community member. The administrator, serving as my judge and jury but declining the role of executioner, had mercy and reinstated me. Now on parole, I’m doing my community service by posting articles written by colleagues I follow, and hoping that with good behavior, I might earn enough good will to slip in one of my own posts from time to time, this time as a non-spammer.

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