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?