Your community allows members to create and augment identities which best help them achieve their goals (positive distinctiveness, money, sex etc…).
These identities include profile information, contributions, friend lists, and avatars/pictures. It also includes publicly visible references to that members from others.
By creating a community you have a degree of responsibility for these identities.
Let's frame a few of the emerging challenges:
1) Should you ensure members don't get themselves into trouble?
For example, do you let members share personal details or not? Do you let members share information that could potentially cause trouble for themselves? Imagine a teacher posts drunken pictures in an unrelated community. It's not illegal, but can hurt his career prospects.
Do you have strict rules (with subsequent moderation burden), broad guidance (with potential for problems), or absolve yourself of responsibility for the actions of members (with potential problems)?
2) Should you ensure members create accurate identities?
Should you allow members to lie? Imagine a member lists achievements in their profile which are patently false. Are you responsible for ensuring truth or are you happy for hundreds of members to claim false achievements?
Are you happy for members to become frustrated that members are creating fantasy identities with no basis in reality?
Again, do you strictly moderate/remove this, do you do your best and take criticism when some slip through, or do you absolve yourself of this responsibility?
3) Should you allow members to remove any contributions they like?
Should members be forgiven for past mistakes? Should a member be allowed to wipe out their contributions and start again afresh? Should members be allowed to selectively remove any contributions they have made – even if it distorts, breaks, or otherwise destroys a valuable discussion/resource?
If you allow a member to remove a contribution, do you also force any other references to that contribution to be removed?
Do you insist members take responsibity for previous contributions and refuse to remove them? Do you allow some members to remove some material? Do you do this on a case by case basis and provide the resource to handle this workload?
4) Should members be allowed to whitewash a negative identity and start afresh?
Do members have the right to know the previous history of members? If a member builds a reputiation for being untrustworthy, unreilable, cheating, aggressive, and mean-spirited do members have a right to know?
In communities where members might enter into business agreements, relationships, or real-life friendships, should it be possible to look up the previous contributions of members they might enter into these interactions with?
Yet, should something a member wrote 10 years ago, fresh out of school, still haunt them years later? People change and some things should be forgotten.
5) What can members say about one another publicly (or externally)
What are members allowed to say about one another? Are they allowed to be negative? Do you have the resouces to prevent them from saying bad things to one another? (aside, are you responsible for online bullying?)
If members are creating a unique identity (for example, a fan fiction community), how do you respond if another member deliberately posts a link to that identity in another community (e.g. their professional community)?
These are a few of the many issues emerging in the digital identity space.
Right now, we don't have the technology to give either full control to members nor take full control ourselves. Even if we did, some issues are too complicated to do this. The rules for 4Chan/Reddit are very different from the rules for a community of tax professionals.
There is a resource implication too. Strict rules require greater resources. A halfway approach works better, until members become disgruntled by a lack of consistency. A no-responsibility approach is simplest, until members blame the community and you suffer legal consequences and negative publicity.
The solution is to go through each question and decide what you a) need to do b) want to do and c) have the resources to do. You need to individually craft an identity policy that works for your audience. This is worth debating with your community.
p.s. Read Forgive and Forget: A Return to Obscurity.
p.p.s. Webinar on 17th with Giftworks. Register for free here.