I don’t do well with “have to”. I never have. In fact, telling me I have to do something is the best way to make sure I don’t do it. That’s how I got kicked out of religion class at Catholic School for not meditating! I prefer to learn by example and as such, I prefer others to teach and lead by example. I want you to set the standard, not the rules.
The internet is an incredibly difficult place to be sometimes. It can be wonderful and it can be horrible. So we set rules. And these rules are fine, up to a point.
Like For A Like
What made me want to write about this topic is the frequency with which I see “like for a like” posts. These are the ones where you share a link to (usually) a social media profile. The owner/moderator of the group will state that YOU MUST follow EVERY SINGLE person who links up.
Before you read any further, please read this next bit, and let it sink in before you continue:
I have moderated forums and groups on and off since I found the internet, writing and fandoms in 2003. I totally understand how hard that job is. I once had someone try to delete my own group out from under me, claiming they hadn’t heard from me in ages (they hadn’t even tried to contact me). This is not picking at anyone or anything in particular. I am in a lot of groups (around 40 on Facebook), forums and online places in general and this is something I see coming up time and time again.
I understand that the underlying concept of “like for a like” is making sure you don’t just post a link to your site/blog/social media account and gain a bunch of followers without reciprocating.
Of course, no one pressures you to participate in these. That’s probably what some of you are thinking right now. But here’s the thing. Many people do like to participate, because the underlying principle of finding new people to follow is sound. Finding new people to follow who are also in a group based on a common interest is an even better idea.
My biggest problem lies in the rules. You MUST follow everyone. Some groups enforce this in different ways. And I choose who I follow on social media, not a moderator in a group.
How does anyone really know if you did like every other participant? I don’t know. I have my suspicions about the way some groups are moderated that either the moderator checks or group members feel like they have to (for lack of a better word) tattle to the moderator about people who don’t follow.
Rules generally don’t work. The last thing we need is another set of complex obligations to follow. The rest of our lives have rules everywhere. Laws. Our jobs. The road rules. Most people can barely follow any of those perfectly, so why do we expect people to follow detailed rules in an online space that is likely being squinted at on a smartphone screen?
Rules can help to bring a sense of order back in when something has gotten out of control, but I don’t believe they are sustainable long term.
(Side note, if you’re a Stargate fan like me, how brilliant is “The Road Not Taken”? It really fits in here about long term sustainability of rules, even though the episode was intended as political commentary.)
So if there aren’t rules, what do you do?
What you have to do is set the standard.
In some ways this is a bit like how non-parents say “I will always explain the reason for my decision to my child” and parents then laugh wildly, knowing that logic doesn’t work on children. Fair enough.
But people on the internet are generally adults (legally speaking). So you need to first give them the benefit of the doubt and treat them like adults. This is about being reasonable – don’t let someone abuse you or others, but a new person into a culture can’t be expected to know the unspoken rules straight away when no one has told them the rules.
Setting the standard is hard. To go back to my kicked out of religion class story, we were all supposed to be relaxed and meditating, but with the teacher pacing the room to make sure that’s what we were doing. How can you relax when someone is watching you relax?
Setting the standard can be mismanaged too. I’ve heard of intimidation being used in workplaces by incoming managers to “encourage” people to dress better. Setting the standard is not an excuse for passive aggressive crap.
Leading by example is hard. It is vague. It has the risk of treating people unfairly through omission. Humans are imperfect. We respond differently to different things based on unrelated feelings.
So why is it worth the “risk” to lead by example? Because in the end, I do believe that most people are inherently good. And when you let people be people, they shine through and you get better engagement, friendships and foster a collaborative atmosphere.
How do you view “like for a like”? Do you believe that we can self-moderate as adults, given the chance?