It’s an interesting point, but I find that were a lot of communities suffer is when dealing not with lack of empathy between individuals, but lack of empathy between groups of people (and maybe individuals).
I find that communities that start reaching a certain mass (not as big as you’d expect, as you start getting into thousands it seems to start appearing) were you see these destructive non-empathetic behaviors but can’t really point to any individual. I have realized that there are “mob personalities”, this is when you put certain people together their pros and cons cancel themselves out in order to form a new personality that might have traits that maybe even none of them have.
Membership in mobs is many-to-many and a complex thing. If a population is big enough membership could be transient (even if we somehow got rid of the permanent members it’d be hard to deal with it). Every single one of the negative traits can appear out there:
- Endless contrarian: this one is the easiest to learn, there’s always someone out there to give you the opposing view. At some point there is always that says you are wrong just because you are wrong and doesn’t build to anything.
- Axe grinding: the name for a mob doing this is circle-jerking
- Griefing is something that happens more against an individual that gains fame. Say that a new member comes over to the community and at first doesn’t get it. It takes them to learn the right way of doing things. Yet someone is always reminding people of “that one time”, someone that heard of those mistakes, but not of the redemption and improvement of the new member. Then those mistakes are repeated and parroted blindly by other members.
- Persistent negativity is yet another thing that is very common in communities. Even though there isn’t a specific attacker, it’s easy to see those negative comments and attacks. Not one person has to focus on it.
- Ranting: as a community’s membership approaches infinity the probability that someone feels extremely strong about a specific subject approaches 1.
- Grudges are the ones that would change the most: they become prejudice against people of a group. A community begins to form subgroups that are extremely closed-minded and splinter.
The thing is that improving the percentage of “bad apples” and of “misguided apples” only slows this down, but it shouldn’t stop it. The number needed to reach this “critical mass” is an absolute that probably is tied to our limitation to empathize with more than 250 people at the same time.
I have heard and read many articles about how to deal with bad apples, dangerous individuals, but what do you do when it isn’t actions of a single, or even a few individual, but the results of the actions of all the community? The only solution I could think is to splinter into smaller, more specific groups, and let a couple cross-pollinators exist to transfer the best ideas and discussions of one group into the others. Yet segmentation and splintering would not really be the best way to do this for everyone so it can’t be a good enough solution.