Policing online vandalism

The Los Angeles Times experiment with wikis for editorials bombed, and there’s been some excellent stuff written in the wake of the experiment. Jarvis said who needs editorials anyway? Gillmor said the trolls of the world are happiest when doing damage. Another great comment came this morning via Poynter’s ONLINE-NEWS list.

Joe Michaud, president of MaineToday.com, writes:

One positive outcome of the LA TImes wiki experiment is their use of the word “vandalism” to describe what happened.

I think we in interactive media and online community-building would be wise to not only embrace the term “vandalism” but also understand its realities and deterrents as they play out in the “real world.” Too often, the assumption is made that human behavior is somehow different when it comes into contact with interactive technology. I tend to disagree.

Joe goes on to list attributes of vandalism in geographic communities, including this one — “If they can, people will steer clear of areas prone to vandalism.” How true this is in the online world as well.

When I ran ANSIR, we had chat rooms and discussion boards, both of which were constantly overrun by these vandals. In the end, policing it wasn’t worth the good that the interactivity was generating, so we closed everything down. This is a common occurrence, and it’s sad.

While I think using the term “vandalism” is brilliant, there’s a trap waiting for legitimately policing such crimes online, and that is giving up privacy. We could fix this overnight, if we’d just give up a little privacy, but that’s more than a door — it’s a hallway with lots of doors we’d rather avoid opening.

This is something we need to figure out down here at the bottom instead of looking for offline solutions. Who knows? Perhaps we’ll come up with something that’ll help them too.

BONUS: Doc Searls links to offers this explanation of why wikitorials didn’t work.

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