The past UK General Election highlighted an issue with the management of online communities, especially those that are targeted at neighbourhoods.
In the BBC News article, a local Facebook group that was used by a neighbourhood specifically for sharing advice, recommending businesses, advertising local events, “lost-and-found” and similar purposes was steered from this purpose to a political discussion board.
You may or may not think that politics should have something to do with your neighbourhood but ordinarily, it stays very well clear. That is unless you are dealing with a locally-focused issue like the availability of publicly-funded services like healthcare, education or transport infrastructure in your neighbourhood. Or it could be about a property development that is before the local council that could affect your neighbourhood.
How that came about was that it was managed by a single older person who had passed away. Due to the loss of an administrator, the group effectively became a headless “zombie” group where there was no oversight over what was being posted.
That happened as the UK general election was around the corner with the politics “heating up” especially as the affected neighbourhood was in a marginal electorate. Here, the neighbourhood newsgroup “lost it” when it came to political content with the acrimony heating up after the close of polls. The site administrator’s widow even stated that the online group was being hijacked by others pushing their own agendas.
Subsequently, several members of that neighbourhood online forum stepped in to effectively wrest control and restore sanity to it. This included laying down rules against online bullying and hate speech along with encouraging proper decent courtesy on the bulletin board. It became hard to effectively steer back the forum to that sense of normalcy due to pushback by some members of the group and the established activity that occurred during the power vacuum.
This kind of behaviour, like all other misbehaviour facilitated through the Social Web and other Internet platforms, exploits the perceived distance that the Internet offers. It is something you wouldn’t do to someone face-to-face.
What was being identified was that there was a loss of effective management power for that online group due to the absence of a leader which maintained the group’s character and no-one effectively steps up to fill the void. This can easily happen with any form of online forum or bulletin board including an impromptu “group chat” set up on a platform like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or Viber.
It is like a real-life situation with an organisation like a family business where people have put in the hard yards to maintain a particular character. Then they lose the effective control of that organisation and no-one steps up to the plate to maintain that same character. This kind of situation can occur if there isn’t continual thought about succession planning in that organisation’s management especially if there aren’t any young people in the organisation who are loyal to its character and vision.
An online forum should have the ability and be encouraged to have multiple moderators with the same vision so others can “take over” if one isn’t able to adequately continue the job anymore. Here, you can discover and encourage potential moderators through their active participation online and in any offline events. But you would need to have some people who have some sort of computer and Internet literacy as moderators so they know their way around the system or require very minimal training.
The multiplicity of moderators can cater towards unforseen situations like death or sudden resignation. It also can assure that one of the moderators can travel without needing to have their “finger on the pulse” with that online community. In the same vein, if they or one of their loved ones falls ill or there is a personal calamity, they can concentrate on their own or their loved one’s recovery and rehabilitation or managing their situation.
There will be a reality that if a person moves out of a neighbourhood in good faith, they will have maintained regular contact with their former neighbours. Here they would be trying to keep their “finger on the pulse” regarding the neighbourhood’s character. This fact can be exploited with managing a neighbourhood-focused online community by them being maintained as a “standby moderator” where they can be “roped in” to moderate the online community if there are too few moderators.
To keep the same kind of “vibe” within that online community that you manage will require many hands at the pump. It is not just a one-person affair.