[Home]SelfPolicing

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SelfPolicing is where all members of the community act as the PoliceForce. The community can delegate responsibility by consensus, and by consensus take it away. Indeed, the whole notion of PeerPrivilege is all about the community running itself. Wikis are in theory self-policing.

There are essentially two sides to self-policing--the SoftSecurity side, where the PygmalionEffect drives individuals to police their own actions (encouraged but not enforced by PeerPressure and CommunityExpectation); and the HardSecurity side, where anyone can perform VigilanteJustice.

HardSecurity SelfPolicing can break down into MobRule?, or more often break up into having only segments of the community doing the policing--then you get a PoliceForce, or a GatedCommunity

HardSecurity SelfPolicing actions include CommunityWarning and CommunityExile.


There are two definitions of self being equivocated in the above definition. In contemporary terms, many of us consider self to be each one of us individually. Thus a self-policing environment would mean only each person was responsible for herself. However, when people talk about self-policing communities they are grammatically using the reflexive use of self. That is, the self is the community. (Think "self-cleaning oven"; the self is the oven.) Just being responsible for yourself only makes a self-policing self. A self-policing community is a community-policing community.

Logically, of course, this is tantamount to a tautology. In most instances, it is a tautology, for who else would the police be but members of the community? Certainly there are cases where a community is policed from outside itself, like a prison. It seems clear that a self-policing community would at least feel affinity for those that police it.

Still, that isn't enough. There still remains a ClassStriation between the police and the policed, the empowered and the overpowered. This imbalance creates a schism by which we may separate the community into two halves. This idea of schism gives us what I feel is commonly considered a SelfPolicing community.

A SelfPolicing community maintains order (polices itself) without creating a separate PoliceForce class of any means. All members of the community are empowered the same, and are responsible the same, for the good of the whole community. The definition above does make an interesting suggestion that community members may create a PoliceForce or otherwise delegate power provided that power was sufficiently accountable and yet remain self-policing; I've allowed for that in this definition.

This new definition though certainly allows for HardSecurity provided it was equally accessible. An IP ban list maintained using our FileReplacement system, for instance. It may not even use SoftSecurity much at all. A gun-toting community with the legal requirement to shoot all criminals, where criminal guilt was easily discerned (say a TransparentSociety where trespassing, murder, and theft are the only laws), would be self-policing, and hardly soft. -- SunirShah


(I failed to save a near-complete response; I'll try to recover it from my neurons...)

Self-policing communities are indeed community-policing communities.

But it is crucial to recognize that discrete acts of policing are done by individuals. It is an individual police officer who arrests, interrogates, or shoots a suspect, not the entire police force.

If we say that a self-policing community is one in which all members are considered equally responsible and empowered to police actions--rather than simply a self-maintaining community (one which is sustainable, such as a constitutional society), then:

There are two possible categories that fit the above description: where individuals can commit PoliceForce actions on each other, and one in which individuals police themselves, as encouraged (enforced?) by CommunityExpectation.

The latter is a SelfPolicing-SelfPolicing community (self-policing individuals composing a community-policing community).

I apologize for repeating what I've written earlier; I had written a better version of this response earlier. --anon.

In all communities, all actions are done by individuals. It's not inconsistent to have a community that maintains order when each individual maintains order of themselves alone. In fact, that would be the simplest form of self-policing community if we assume each individual was perfect. However, human error and malevolence will disrupt this society if there are no mechanisms to deal with these imperfections. A community that needs to tolerate such imperfections will need a more complex, communal system. -- SunirShah

Exactly. How does a community with no PoliceForce (with powers greater than average citizens) protect itself from malicious intruders? Without the ability to remove someome from the community, the only alternative is to rely on CommunityExpectation -- which vandals refuse to honor -- or to hope the intruder will get bored and go away. See ClayShirky on the need for a community to have enough power over individuals to protect itself from them. (http://www.shirky.com/writings/group_enemy.html) -- KatherineDerbyshire

Why always an UsAndThem mentality?

Vandals exist. In order to AssumeGoodFaith and avoid an UsAndThem mentality within a community, the community has to be able to exclude those who would exploit its openness. Online communities can be more tolerant than MeatSpace communities in part because the stakes online are relatively low, and in part because online communities are more resilient. (It's difficult to restore a murder victim from backup tapes.) Still, a sufficiently determined vandal can do serious damage to both the data and the "feel" of an online community. At some point, calling in the PoliceForce is in the best interests of the majority. --anon.

That's a very hard moralistic mentality, perhaps hinting at the fallacious societal dichotomy of criminals and citizens. Criminals and citizens are both people, subjects of human nature, and to successfully and healthily deal with criminals you must take this into account.

Consider the common argument that suggests gun control is invalid because "criminals don't obey the rules." This argument is false because most criminals aren't acting rationally. Most criminals, as they are people, would find it abhorrent to kill. Moreover, the decision to kill is often irrational and emotional, such as in domestic disputes. Limiting access to guns would eliminate these crimes of passion.

Furthermore, many crimes are sociopathic, such as vandalism. Further excluding the vandal from society will only exacerbate the threat. Certainly an overly punitive response would be worse than useless. A teenager with a spraypaint can does not deserve CommunityExile to a maximum security prison. The punishments must fit the crimes, and often the right answer is corrective rather than punitive. This requires engaging the attacker rather than alienating her.

There are actually two issues here, one dealing with the behavior and the other dealing with the individual. If a teenager is spraypainting cars in a neighborhood, the owners of the cars are unlikely to be willing to quietly get their cars repainted over and over again until the teenager gets bored. An ineffective response can be as bad for the community as a whole as a punitive response. The failure of SoftSecurity increases community demand for HardSecurity and/or a PoliceForce, while simultaneously discouraging people who would otherwise FixBrokenWindows.

Once the problem behavior stops, the community is much more able to figure out what to do with the offender and how to prevent a recurrence. That's why many societies separate maintenance of order (policing) from decisions about guilt, innocence, and sanctions (the court system).

One problem with Internet communities is they too often resemble VigilanteJustice. A teenager spraypainting cars is tarred, feathered, and run out of town on a rail. Which means when he comes back, he'll be really angry and bring friends, escalating the whole mess. -- KatherineDerbyshire

The real problem though is that there are often limited resources and limited time available to deal with the problem effectively, not to mention mistakes made on behalf of the society which flame the attack. Online, communities are very limited in their CommunicationChannels (and typically in their leadership skills), whereas they are overly endowed with the ability to control. This leads people to tend towards HardSecurity. Undeniably HardSecurity may be an effective and efficient solution for the short term. However, in the long term, the psychological health of your community suffers greatly. Long term/short term trade offs are always created by time constraints.

However, whenever such an incident occurs where a PoliceForce was deemed necessary, it would be well to take the time to consider what could be done more effectively to resolve similar problems with SoftSecurity in the future. Easier said than done, but certainly it is one aspect of good governance. -- SunirShah


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