Do You Trust Strangers?

In theory, you and your team would follow clear guidelines to make decisions about whether or not to remove members from a community.

Yet a study of Wikipedia admins revealed admins/moderators with ‘low trust’ in strangers were 81% more likely to enforce the community guidelines.

Very few moderators follow strict guidelines. This is a good thing. Community guidelines only specify the offense, they rarely consider the intent.

Intent and context matters. You might ban swear words, but would you enforce the same punishment upon someone who said “fuck you” and someone else who said “that was a fucking amazing answer, thank you so much!”

But considering intent is also where subjective bias (i.e. our past experiences) shapes our thinking. If your experience is ‘people are generally bad, new members can’t be trusted, and everyone is a potential troll’, that’s going to be reflected in more frequent enforcement of the rules.

I know one community manager who moved from a gaming community (where problems were more frequent) to a professional community of scientists and did tremendous harm in enforcing arcane rules upon newcomers.

Two things are important here. First, be aware of the benefits and the costs of your past experience. Every community is unique and your past frame of reference in how members will behave might be very different from how your new members behave.

Second, when hiring a community manager, get a sense of how they think of members and problems in the community. Ask if they typically trust newcomers in a community and what percentage of members caused issues in their past community. Recruit people with the right frame of reference for making decisions in your community.

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