The Social Contract - It Applies to Forums Too
The Social Contract developed by Enlightenment philosophers such as John Locke in the 1600s and 1700s provided the people with a stable ground on which to base republican government on. The Social Contract stated that the leader and his people are obligated to serve each other’s needs. If the leader’s people were out of line, the leader had the right to make and enforce law. However, it works the other way too. If the leader abused his power, the people had the right to overthrow the leader and establish a leader that would allow them to live the life they wanted.
If you’ve read the title of this post, you already know where this is headed. The Social Contract is not just for government, it’s applicable to forums too.
What many forum owners don’t realize is that their members are not obligated to post on their forum. Clicking the “Log Out” link and never visiting that forum again is just as easy as clicking “Add Reply” and contributing content to the community.
The problem arises when the forum develops an issue that involves the administration, for example, a flame war or a criticism of the forum. When it comes to these issues, the administration may feel compelled to exercise their power, reprimanding “unruly” (notice that it’s in quotations) users, dishing out warnings, and ultimately clicking that ban button.
However, while it is in fact every right for the administration to enforce the rules of the forum, the member also has every right to leave the forum. Joining a forum is not a legally binding contract - the world of forums is a free market, and if the forum owner does not provide something compelling, the user will simply leave.
The trick with the Social Contract is to find the perfect spot on the spectrum. However, that perfect spot isn’t necessarily a balance. It depends on the forum itself. If a forum is heavily weighed on serious discussions and debate, then those members understand that in this Social Contract, the administration will in fact need to enforce the rules and that their freedoms are a little more restricted, but to them that’s okay, because an unruly member is a lot worse.
So there you have it. Just a little thought to have when you run your forum.