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Social Control in Online Society--Advantages of Self-Regulation on the Internet

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1 Author(s)
van Kokswijk, J. ; Katholieke Univ. Leuven (KU Leuven), Leuven, Belgium

Online communities are just like real worlds: control is necessary to make for a pleasant society. This does not automatically imply government or company control. In many virtual communities there has been a kind of social control for many years now that adequately maintains order in their public virtual space. Does this mean that laws are unnecessary? Some people cry out for an Internet police that must maintain public order in the cyber-Gomorrah. However, there can be order without law. Not only is legislation unnecessary for law, but law is unnecessary for order. A field study showed that as most people find the maxim 'everyone is deemed to know the law' too hard, and as the costs of procedures are so high, it is easier to fall back on common-sense norms. In this case all three functions of law-rule formation, enforcement, and dispute resolution- are asserted by means of these informal norms. And if the costs of learning and using the law are so high, then there is little use for the government to adjust the law, since citizens will ignore it anyway. Hence, these high costs become an argument for negotiating rather than the complex governmental solutions to property rights conflicts. Why then should we make (new) rules for the Internet society, if there are (too many?) rules already? Do social conventions, control and arbitration not suffice? These and similar questions arise when we look at 'life' in the online communities. Self-regulation of online communities alone is sometimes insufficient. The government will intervene in cases of serious abuse or criminal cases. A good balance between external and internal regulation can be found by having all parties involved in the chain jointly formulate regulations, in which supervision, maintaining order, dispute resolution, and misconduct are openly organized. Draconian measures, often supported by politicians out of ignorance, will however have little effect, as common sense looks for solutions in the future and- - legislation is based on the past. This article describes the advantages of self-regulation on the Internet and the (im)possibilities social control offers.

Published in:

Cyberworlds (CW), 2010 International Conference on

Date of Conference:

20-22 Oct. 2010