Beware the army of clones

Identical Storm Troopers

When community has been well crafted and managed over time, its members will feel a strong sense of belonging and be able to articulate membership identifiers that make them feel part of the group.

It’s natural that many of those communities – built around purpose, topic or practice – are characterised by sameness rather than otherness. People join, participate and return because they find kindredness, and form bonds around common experiences or objectives.

But it’s a fine line between group cohesion and a monoculture, where divergent voices aren’t welcome, and members fall prey to group-think.

Our age of algorithmically fuelled interaction increases this risk. We’re served more of what we already like, sending us deeper into the filter bubble.

It’s not just that our lives are impoverished when we’re surrounded by an army of clones. Our communities atrophy and wilt.

Online communities are especially susceptible to monoculture that drives new voices (new growth) away.

Learn more: Communities need to get things done

So how do you ensure the sameness that binds doesn’t ultimately isolate and collapse the whole?

Here’s some simple tips.

  • Ensure & protect diverse voices

Community leaders need to proactively bring divergent voices into the community. Recruit with this in mind.

If dominant voices in the community are intimidating less vocal members who may have alternate perspectives, find ways to modulate the balance and let quieter voices trust they can participate without penalty.

  • Illuminate personal stories

Giving community members permission (and a safe way) to share stories from their own lives in the community context immediately stymies a monoculture.

Even if world views are shared, lived experience is individualised.

  • Facilitate (constructive) debate

Even a community of narrow purpose has a spectrum of topical nuance within that area.

Use content (e.g. polling, interviews with polarising stances) to help members identify where on that spectrum they fit. Invite members to play devils advocate to their standard position and reflect on the results.

  • Focus on learning

Learning new things is a part of any healthy community. By instilling a commitment to growth you’re letting members know that status quo isn’t an option.

You’re also investing in the collective knowledge of the group, which means members in turn will value that community more.

Photo: Jeremy Keith

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