“The No Asshole Rule” focuses on how traditional organizations can –- and do –- enforce norms that stop people from acting like demeaning jerks. But, especially since I starting blogging, people keep telling me about how similar rules are expressed and enforced in online communities.
A few months back, my teenage son showed me an intriguing chatlog from (I hope I am getting this language right) a chat channel that he is part of where people talk about massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs). The log starts with an incident where a person is banned for soliciting people to sell him drugs. Then a conversation among about 10 people starts about some of the worst “asshats” and “assholes” they’ve ever encountered and how quickly they had been kicked-off, including “the one who started the argument about using gay as an insult.” The group then decides to establish “a three strikes rule,” where “We're going to start using temporary silencing as warning shots for people causing an abundance of trouble,” and after three incidents, ban them permanently.
I started asking my friends who play online games if they have such a rule, and I learned that, for example, that in World of Warcraft, some “guilds” write down and enforce quite detailed rules, which often include guidelines for expelling people who act like jerks. A gamer who read this blog also sent me to several links on Penny Arcade (a site for gamers) that talk about “The Golden Rule of Internet: Don’t be a Dick,” which list things that can get you banned from MMOGs and chat groups. I don’t understand all these guidelines, as many have to do with game play, but I do understand why they ban pornographic images, racism, and my favorite item because it is so subtle and so compelling:
This has a working definition of "attempting to be as annoying as possible while still technically obeying the rules," and it's not the way to go about getting attention. There tends to be a thin line between being annoying and being funny. Those who cross it--whether through a lack of familiarity with the forums or as sad, twisted, bid for attention--will be banned.
Don't be a dick. If people abided by this, we wouldn't need any other policies. This is a corollary of ignore all rules, and most other rules are a special case of this one.
And I like the added advice:
If you've been labeled as a dick, or if you suspect that you may be one, the first step is to realize it. Ask what is causing this perception. Change your behavior and your mode of presentation. If needed, apologize to anyone to whom you may have been a dick. It's okay! People will take notice of your willingness to cooperate and will almost always meet your efforts with increased respect.
This last bit of advice mirrors my observations from the off-line world: That the first step to recovering from being an asshole is to realize that you are one. And when people realize that you are taking authentic steps to reform, they often show remarkable understanding. In fact, some you may have seen those buttons and refrigerator magnets that say "Admitting you are an asshole is the first step."
As an organizational researcher, I am fascinated by how explicitly these norms are stated and how – although there are arguments and ambiguities – about what it means to be a online jerk, there is a remarkable amount of consensus as well.
PS: I am just starting to learn about how online groups engage in “asshole management” and enforce other important norms, so of any of you could point me to other places where I might learn more, I would appreciate it.