Online Community Management Shows 'Deterrence' Does Stop Crime

By cheat_master30 · Feb 24, 2018 · ·
  1. Over the last few years, we've seen a lot of comments about 'deterrence' and 'punishment' not working to stop crime. From numerous studies to online articles and examples taken from certain countries, the expert consensus seems to be that the threat of prison doesn't stop criminals and that the death penalty is virtually useless as a means of punishment. It's usually used as an argument for relaxing laws in the UK and US, or making prison conditions better in general.

    But as a community manager, part of me wonders whether that attitude may be rather flawed. In fact, I believe our experiences online do indeed show that deterrence and consequences work, through the simple means of showing what a completely unmoderated community feels like them.

    What do I mean by this? Well, think of it this way. What is the nearest thing in this world to a totally unmoderated, lawless community without any real consequences for bad behaviour?

    Modern social media websites. Or perhaps image boards like 4chan.

    And well, contrary to the Scandinavian ideals of a low crime society where everyone gets along, those places can be absolute hell on Earth (or hell on the internet if you prefer it that way). The people are rude, the comments are filled with idiots saying ridiculous things, the amount of offensive content is off the scale and every vice on the planet seems to be represented at large. I mean, there's a reason people say never to read the YouTube comments. Or why some news sites are removing the comment sections altogether.


    Above: Or why some of Reddit's more 'controversial' communities are so questionable.

    Because as people have found out, a lack of consequences does change human behaviour. It destroys it to the point a reasonable society can't function.

    So how do we know the real world isn't working the same way?

    I mean sure, there are always going to be people that do break the rules, and a decent percentage of today's criminals are simply too sociopathic/narcissistic/whatever to care. For people with that lack of moral foundation, punishment obviously won't change the way they work.

    But for all we know, perhaps they're just the minority of potential criminals out there. Maybe the vast majority of potential troublemakers really are being deterred by the exact things experts say don't work. Perhaps if the consequence of prison or whatever did go away, we'd see more trolls and bullies in the real world as those scared of being punished for their actions follow their darkest desires.

    After all, those trolls on Facebook aren't all horrible people in real life. They're normal folks with friends and families who act like obnoxious twats online because the consequences for said behaviour are so few.

    However, what do you think? Does online community management show what society might really be like with more lax laws or lower consequences for criminal behaviour? Is the hellish existence of online social media sites basically evidence that deterrence really does stop troublemakers in more moderated communities?

    What do you think?
    ToyBoxOrphan likes this.


  1. Nev_Dull
    No, I don't think it does.

    Comparing online behaviour to real life behaviour is like comparing "reality" television to reality. There is no common ground for comparison. A three month ban from some web forum is not on the same scale as two years-less-a-day in a correctional facility.
      djbaxter likes this.
  2. djbaxter
    This is not a new debate "over the last few years". It's a debate that has been actively pursued since the 1970s or earlier.

    The problem is that you cannot compare repeat criminal offenders to non-criminals. You cannot even equate different types of criminal offenders or crimes.
  3. djbaxter
    Does deterrence work in the real world? For the average person, arguably yes, but then the average person wouldn't normally do most of the things that habitual criminals do even without legislated deterrents - due to empathy, morality, anticipatory remorse and guilt, etc. It also depends on the perceived likelihood of getting caught and the perceived severity of the penalty if caught. Consider speeding, distracted driving, and impaired driving: People don't expect to get caught.
  4. djbaxter
    Deterrents are also not a significant factor in crimes of passion, like partner abuse or most common homicides.

    Deterrents aren't a factor in addictive behaviors because the addiction is simply far more powerful and immediate than anything that might occur more than 24 hours down the road.
  5. djbaxter
    And, all that aside, as Nev_DullNev_Dull has already said, none of this has anything to do with online behavior in any case, where the sense of anonymity and insulation from reality allows people to say and do things they would rarely do in real life.
  6. sanction9
    Yeah, as others have pointed out, I'm not sure how useful it is comparing online community behavior and deterrents to our prisons and criminal justice system. I think at this point one doesn't have to look hard to find evidence that on average our prison system in the US makes people worse and much more likely to re-offend than, say, the prison system in a country like Norway, where they focus much more on rehabilitation. (They have a recidivism rate of 20 percent compared to our 60 percent.)
  7. sanction9
    So I guess you could argue that consequences/punishments are important, but equally as important are the kinds of punishment meted out. Just throwing people in a cage for years with violent gangs definitely does not make our society better in the long run.
  8. sanction9
    Now add to that more and more private prisons in the U. S. with a financial incentive to lobby and influence laws and lock more people up for longer, which in turn is largely motivated by the fact that we already have about 25% percent of the world's prisoners, despite only having about 5% of the world's population, which gets damned expensive. Not sure I'd call all this a "successful" deterrent system.
  9. cheat_master30
    I will point out that I do feel too many people are locked up for things that shouldn't be considered crimes in a well run society, like drug possession/usage or what not too. Putting people in these situations in prison is a stupid idea that ignores how badly stuff like prohibition failed in the past and likely creates more criminals than it takes off the streets.

    These people should certainly not be in jail with violent gangs.
  10. sanction9
    Yes, the "war on drugs" is a big reason behind our prison population having increased by more than 700 percent in the last 40 years. Unfortunately, we now have an attorney general who wants to go right back to it, business as usual. And of course he wants to get the federal government going after businesses in states where marijuana is now legal, despite Trump himself saying just a couple years ago that legalization should be decided on the state level.
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