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When Social Norms Fail

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Association for Computing Machinery


Within online communities, social norms that both set expectations for and regulate behavior can be critical to the overall welfare of the community--particularly in the context of the privacy and safety of its members. For communities where the cost of regulatory failure can be high, it is important to understand both the conditions under which norms might be effective, and when they might fail. As a case study, we consider transformative fandom, a creative community dedicated to reimagining existing media in subversive ways. Due to the vulnerability of many members, this community has strong, longstanding norms to keep its members safe. Through an interview study with 25 fandom participants, we investigate this complex array of implicit norms that have been largely effective over time, but have also begun to break down. Catalysts for these breakdowns include value tensions between sub-communities and an increasing presence of outsiders, though most prominently, we identify a disconnect between the norms the community needs to support and the design of the platforms they occupy.


Dym, Brianna; Fiesler, Casey (2020): When Social Norms Fail. Companion Proceedings of the 2020 ACM International Conference on Supporting Group Work. DOI: 10.1145/3323994.3369881. Association for Computing Machinery. pp. 91–94. Sanibel Island, Florida, USA