Regulating Behavior in Online Communities
In thriving communities, a rough consensus eventually emerges about the range of behaviors the managers and most members consider acceptable, what we will call normative behaviors, and another range of behaviors that are beyond the pale. A Rape In Cyberspace, the newspaper report by Julian Dibbell (1993), describes a classic example of unacceptable behavior in LamdaMoo, an early virtual environment. Mr. Bungle, an avatar in the online community, wrote a program that forced two avatars controlled by other participants to have virtual sex with him and with each other, and to do brutal things to their own bodies. In describing the event online the next day, one of the victims begged “"I am requesting that Mr. Bungle be toaded for raping Starsinger and I [stet],” where “toad” is the command that would turn Bungle’s avatar into a toad, annihilating the character’s original description and attributes. Within 24 hours, 50 other characters also called for his toading. Three days later the community had a real-time discussion of the issue. An system administrator who observed this discussion eventually ran the toad command to eliminate the Mr. Bungle character. Although LamdaMoo did not have a policy against cyberrape, when one occurred in its midst, this action instigated widespread discussion and crystallized a view among many inhabitants of what were correct and incorrect types of behavior in this community.