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Part of the ImportanceOfIdentityInOnlineCommunities discussion.

Responsibility and retribution for failure is a good thing. See SoftSecurity, CommunitySolution. All freedoms come limited by others. Many rights are limitations of freedoms, like your right to privacy. Freedom of Speech advocates often lose sight of the larger picture. It is not good for me to run down the street yelling racial epithets. You are not free to do so. Much of the Freedom of Speech mania came in reaction to the U.S. Government's policies during WWI. Take a more balanced viewpoint. Enforcing responsibility serves to keep one accountable, honest, and responsible.

Following are some ways people try to avoid responsibility and proposed means of dealing with them.

Fake Identity

This often often happens online. See SemanticsOfIdentity and OnlineCommunity.


These days, responsibility is usually shared. Teams make decisions. The management make decisions. And since several people make decisions, nobody is really accountable for the mistakes. Sure, every once and again a scapegoat "takes the responsibility" and leaves. Probably settles down in the Bahamas and spends his millions sunbathing and cocktail drinking.

Therefore -- say so! Point fingers at people and ask them for an explanation. Ask them what to do about the consequences of their own actions. Explain to the public what has happened, why it happened, and why the people responsible acted the way they did.

Enforce consequences for failure: Damages to be paid, reputation to be lost.

Note that you can use this to your advantage, too. Never go to meetings alone. The more you are, the easier it is to avoid blame. If you couldn't defend yourself, all of you couldn't. If you missed a deadline, all of you did. If it didn't work, the team failed.

Appeal to Authority

Sometimes responsibility is not spread over many people but over time. Things are decided because of tradition or current practices. This is what happens in medicine or law. Doctors follow the current doctrine. Judges act on precedents.

Therefore challenge appeals to authority. Ask for a reevaluation.

Enforce a discussion where appeals to authority have to replaced with sound arguments.

Note that in the face of uncertainty, authority might stand for experience. If headaches are treated a certain way for decades and nobody has challenged it, then maybe the approach does actually work -- even if nobody knows why.

Use this cautiously because the ultimate goal continues to be the replacement of appeals to authority with sound arguments.

Temporary Responsibility

Politicians and managers have no incentive to make decisions concerning the future, because they will probably no longer be there. And when they aren't there anymore, they don't feel responsible.

This is very human and there is no general answer to this. It lies at the core of PollutionOfTheEnvironment and many other problems.

Therefore, enforce long term accountability whenever possible.

Note that this works for decision makers as well as for companies, but it is more difficult if significant parts of the world population do it (eg. use cars and waste electricity).

See also: SemanticsOfIdentity, IdentityValidation, VulnerabilityToCommunity, PenName, BasisForPseudonymity, FocusOnIdentity.

Enforcing responsibility sounds reasonable. But doesn't this run counter to DissuadeReputation, which talks agains punishment? -- DavidSchmitt

We're not handing responsibility to people we want to get rid of. We're handing responsibility to community members. If we care about them, we may be pissed at them, but we're not going to ignore them. In fact, we want to help them develop. Enforce responsibility of only those people you want to stick around.

Then again, I agree with the assessment that this pattern is an AntiPattern waiting to happen. This pattern is very old. We've come a long way since them, and you'll notice we rarely use this strategy any more, except to long-time community members. -- SunirShah

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