I read a couple of interesting articles today with relevance to how norms and laws are enforced.
First, in FeverBee’s Online Community Guide: Using Data To Prevent Rules Violations. The blog is narrowly focussed on managing online communities about products and brands, and I started following it back when I worked for the Happiness Initiative and we were contemplating starting an online community about happiness science. We realised we didn’t have the resources to do it well, and I’ve gone on to do other things, but I kept reading that blog because it’s so often relevant to a much broader definition of a community.
This post was perhaps the broadest example, because the approach they suggest for the rules of an online community strike me as perfectly applicable to the laws of whole countries. To that end, they distinguish between repeat offenders, who need to be given a limited number of chances and then dealt with by measures ranging from shaming to banning, and multiple people violating the same rule. The key point is that if many different people keep breaking the same rule, then the rule itself is broken in some way, whether people just aren’t aware enough of it, or the rule itself needs changing. I’d love to see the same approach applied to laws; as it is laws that are routinely broken by everyday people (marijuana prohibition; private gambling restrictions; 20-year-olds and booze, etc) just chip away at collective respect for the law itself.
The second article was a much longer piece in the Village Voice: Bail is Busted: How Jail Really Works. One thing that struck me reading it was the reminder of when the NYPD arrested 700 protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge. It was far from the only instance of a massive draconian response to the Occupy protests handing us the ugly visual of the police treating a mass arrest like a cattle round up, and each of those felt like a sign of just how broken the police’s approach to the protests was. If you find yourself literally arresting multiple busloads of your citizens, it’s probably time for a rethink.
The key point of the article, though, was about how horribly broken the bail system is. The article presents pretty persuasive evidence that many innocent people end up pleading guilty to get out of a bail trap, and wrongful convictions ruin lives, yet there’s huge institutional resistance to changing it. Given that, I have huge admiration for the new initiative coming out of Occupy Wall Street to circumvent the system, not only for their own but for random defendants. If the system worked properly, I’d oppose circumventing it, but I think they can prevent a greater evil here.