This from Derek Powazek:
He is discussing blog etiquette and the Bad Apple. So true. What’s your wisdom?
In his 2009 study published in Research in Organizational Behavior, Will Felps found that one bad participant can have a negative effect on an entire group. His research was about real-life, in-person meetings, but it’s entirely relevant to online community.
He identified three types of negative participants: the Jerk, the Slacker, and the Depressive Pessimist. The Jerk insults others, the Slacker displays disinterest, and the Depressive Pessimist complains and says it’s all pointless. (Sounds like a typical comment thread to me.)
Felps conducted experiments where he put groups of volunteers into a room to work together on a task for a financial reward. Unbeknownst to the group, one of the members was an actor who embodied one of the three types of negative participants.
The conventional wisdom said that groups are more powerful than any one individual, so one bad apple should not have much of an impact. Felps found the opposite. Groups with the bad actor performed 30 to 40 percent worse than groups without. In addition, the bad actors caused team members to emulate their behavior. When the actor was a slacker, others would slack. In short, our behavior is like a virus. The behavior of one participant is replicated.
What this means online is that moderators should be in place to guard against negative participation, especially early in the conversation. I’ve found that the first comment effectively sets the tone for all that come after, so I recommend holding all comments in a queue until there’s a good standout comment, and then ensuring that comment appears first. Moderators should be vigilant about looking out for bad apples, recognize the destructiveness of their participation, and treat it accordingly.