Barriers to Entry

In my last post, and in an upcoming podcast, I discussed setting up barriers to entry for social networks as a way to prevent trolls from entering platforms. I was quickly reminded by my wife that, even though I was advocating for keeping “bad people” out, these barriers can often by used by people to exclude any group of people the community sees as unfit.

Money disadvantages those who can’t spare it. Technological requirements disadvantage those who don’t have the know-how. Personal vetting disadvantages anyone who isn’t part of your clique. It’s a short walk from there to excluding people because of gender, race, etc.

Ultimately, you end up enforcing the same broken systems that exist in real life social groups, and that’s not what we should strive for on the internet or anywhere else. Inclusion of all people, regardless of who they are, is what we should always aim for.

To be clear: my intent was not to suggest that we create barriers that exclude people in order to enforce bias. Instead, I was suggesting that having a cost-of-entry, however small, can create just enough friction to keep bad actors from bothering your community because they won’t want to expend the necessary resources to join.

The problem with this is that the available barriers are the same ones we’ve always used. How do we keep out the bad while letting in the good? How do we disenfranchise bad actors without accidentally disenfranchising someone who would enrich the community? How do we make sure that our definition of good isn’t someone else’s definition of bad and vice versa? Are some barriers more justifiable than others? If so, why, and according to whom?

As long as people are making these decisions, whether intentional or not, I believe the results will always be biased in one way or another. I’m afraid the idea of a pure community that’s open to everyone, where there are no barriers, where people who act out against one or all of the group’s members are dealt with in a way that’s agreeable to everyone inside and outside the community, will never exist. I’d like to be proven wrong.