burning books on Flickr "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one." Godwin's Law

The image above illustrates, to me, the level of frenzy community members get into as they become more and more emotionally involved in a community. I'm not entirely sure what the member is protesting here as there didn't seem to be any clear direction to a specific instance, but from what I've heard through the grapevine, it has something to do with nudity on Flickr. I've always thought it was ridiculous to censor artistic nudity, but some of what I've been witness to on Flickr crosses the line between art and porn. Still, it doesn't bother me personally. I'm pretty much neutral on the porn thing (although I find most of it extremely boring and non-titillating...probably because it's not made for me). I also don't tend to censor what my son consumes (and if he were a daughter, I wouldn't either), I just hope my lessons of respect for women over-ride any of the objectified ones.

But this isn't the point, really.

The point is hot buttons. And you know that you have an emotionally invested community when someone can yell "Fire!" (or, in this case Nazis, Censorship and Control) and cause a real ruckus.

I've cited McMillan & Chavis' work on Sense of Community in many of my presentations, but I don't think I've ever pointed to it here. There are, basically, four 'senses', each one forming a deeper bond that occur:

  1. Sense of Membership
  2. Feelings of Influence
  3. Integration and Fulfillment of Needs
  4. Shared Emotional Connection

I describe this journey into a deeper and deeper sense of community in the way you may recall entering any social group. In the beginning, you recognize commonalities (dress, language, symbols, etc.) that make you feel like you've 'come home'...that this group can understand who you are: sense of membership. There is also a basic feeling of safety, but you don't give yourself completely yet. You are hanging around, picking up on the gestures, the signs. That's the level of Influence that is taking place. This is when you start communicating. You make a statement and see how it is responded to. You feel listened to. You are also learning from the group. You are starting to 'fit in'. As you fit in more and more, the rewards are piling up. You feel status over time, you are working together towards accomplishing something. More and more trust happens. You are integrated and your needs (as well as the groups) are being fulfilled. You feel secure and safe and can rely on one another and you are more than happy to do your part.

Shared emotional connection is tough. It takes time and/or crisis to really gel. M&C list the following as ways that a community forms the emotional connection:

  1. Contact. The more face to face stuff, the deeper the connection.
  2. Quality of interaction. Hard to judge, but think of team-building exercises where you are actually having to work together toward a true end. Where you have to really trust one another.
  3. Closure to events. Ambiguous interactions don't tend to drive groups together as much as definitive events.
  4. Shared events. Crisis. Life and death. Banding together.
  5. Investment of time and energy. Um...it just takes time and dedication...
  6. Honor and humiliation. Those in the community honored will feel closer, humiliated with retaliate, bringing others together.
  7. Spiritual bond. Hard to define

This is the point at which 'hot buttons' have a real impact. They trigger both the 'Honor and humiliation' as well as the 'Shared events' (crisis) points and they both drive a wedge between community members as well as bring them closer together.

Why Nazis, Censorship and Control tend to come up so frequently is that they are the kind of 'agreed upon' enemies that almost everyone can get behind to fight. All three causes a strong, visceral reaction that flies in the face of what we discuss as holding dear.

But what is actually happening in these communities is usually a far cry from Nazi politics, censorship and controlling behavior. It's usually misunderstandings and reactions, defensiveness and over-reactions that are hyperbolized far beyond what is really happening between multiple well-meaning, but obviously frustrated parties. Human beings have fragile egos and everyone has a stake in making things the way they are.

In fact, even if you don't think you have a stake, you do. Years ago, I read an amazing book called The Dance of Anger, which is targeted at women's relationships, but I've passed it along to many others. The basic thesis is that we get comfortable with the negative patterns in our relationships. That, much like a security blanket, we hang onto these patterns because we know them well. I held onto these patterns for many years with my parents and have strangled past relationships by being too comfortable with these patterns. And, as soon as you recognize it and try to break free from it, your 'dance partner' will fight extremely hard to return you both to that comfortable pattern.

Lately, I've been witness to a whole lot of online communities stuck in awful dances of anger. The irony of the photo above is that it is hosted on Flickr by a non-Pro user...one who, ostensibly, has nothing to lose by just voting with their account deletion (there are also exporting tools available for the photos), but everything to win by participating in this dance of anger (shared events). But Flickr is the best of these deeply emotionally connected communities. I think the Flickr team does an amazing job of keeping their cool. They may make some unpopular decisions, but they take full responsibility and provide a strong leadership that moves on from the dances.

I'd love to hear from you regarding ways you've transcended the Dance of Anger, tips you have for 'keeping your cool' and whether or not it is important to expose fallacies (like censorship, etc.) or just walk away...and how do you walk away and help people feel listened to?

Either blog these tips or respond below.