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Admins, Mods, and Benevolent Dictators for Life: The Implicit Feudalism of Online Communities

Affiliated institutions: University of Colorado Boulder

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Description: This essay considers how social networks train users to interact with each other through certain widespread interface designs. I argue that an “implicit feudalism” informs the available options for community management on the Internet’s most popular platforms for online communities. This pattern grants user-administrators absolutist reign over their fiefdoms, with competition among them as the primary mechanism for quality control, under rules set by the meta-absolutism of platform companies. Through experience in communities so constituted, users may be learning to trust effective absolutism, even if it is relatively rare, and distrust their own capacity for self-governance. In light of alternative management mechanisms with more democratic features, it becomes all the more clear that implicit feudalism is not a necessary condition.


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