Tragedy of the Commons: Online Communities

Tragedy of the Commons affects virtual spaces too, leading to overuse and misuse on open platforms like Twitter, Facebook.


October 20, 2023


Steve Berry

Tragedy of the Commons: Online Communities

Tragedy of the Commons: Online Communities

Just as public spaces and the environment suffer from the Tragedy of the Commons, the virtual world is not immune to this phenomenon. The principle states that when everyone has access to a resource, it tends to be overused and depleted, as no direct responsibility is assigned to its users.

The Decline of Free Forums

Platforms that champion free expression have seen a steady decline in the quality of discourse. Twitter, once the pulse of the real-time global conversation, now wrestles with well…everything. Facebook struggles under the weight of questionable incentives that drive content engagement. The more open the platform, the more vulnerable it becomes to the tragedy of overuse and misuse.

The Rise of Private Forums

In response to the deteriorating quality of free forums, a new trend is emerging: private, often paid, communities. At first glance, these might seem exclusionary, locking out those unable or unwilling to pay. However, they could also be viewed as the future of meaningful online interaction. The adage, "Payment fosters respect," rings true here. When members invest in a community, there's an inherent understanding of value and a higher likelihood of positive engagement. These platforms are the ticket to curated, quality interactions.

The Real Cost of the "Free Web"

The allure of the "free web" is enticing. But we must understand its hidden costs. Just as "free shipping" in e-commerce is factored into the price of products, "free speech" online often comes at the expense of quality, security, and respect. The economics of attention dictates that if you aren't paying for a product, you are the product. This has led to platforms optimizing for clicks and eyeballs, often at the cost of user experience and genuine community building.

The Tragedy of the Commons is a stark reminder of the consequences of unchecked communal resources. 

Steve Berry
Principal, Thought Merchants

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