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Power and Perceived Power Use by Moderators in Online Communities

Power and Perceived Power Use by Moderators in Online Communities

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Published by Kat Gnafaki

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Published by: Kat Gnafaki on Jun 30, 2011
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Power and Perceived Power Use byModerators in Online Communities 
Gnafaki Katerina1834952 Abstract 
Online community sites, in which users interact with each other to shareknowledge, represent an interesting context to study the motivations of collectiveaction as well as individual ones in the form of knowledge contribution to onlinecommunity sites. We extend a model of social capital and individual motivationsbased on Wasko and Faraj (2005) to incorporate and contrast the direct impact of commitment to community, reciprocity, enjoyment in helping others andreputation, on users’ intentions to share knowledge. In addition, taking theapproach/inhibition theory into account, we examine the moderating influence of perceived coercive power use of moderators on users’ willingness to contribute inonline community sites. We empirically test our framework using objective dataderived from 207 respondents, all of whom are members of an online communitysite. In addition to the interesting moderating effect, we find that a user’scommitment to the community and reputation are the strongest drivers of hisintentions to share knowledge.
: Online communities, knowledge sharing, online moderation, power
1. Introduction
With the rapid growth of the Internet, online communities emerge as a new placefor individuals to interact with each other (Yang and Lai, 2008). Intuitively,everyone seems to understand the concept of ‘online community’ but so far thereis no agreed upon definition.
Sociologists define a virtual community as a group of individuals who communicate and build social relationships with each other viaInternet-based technology, (Rheingold, 1993) while knowledge management theory explains that an online community provides a new way for individuals toexchange the knowledge they possess (Yang and Lai, 2008). A common definitionthat is used to describe an online community is “a group of people, who cometogether for a purpose online, and who are governed by norms and policies”(Preece, 2000) and this is the one we adopt in our study.Online communities are dynamic, evolving and constantly change (De Souza andPreece, 2004). Understanding why people use online communities can providevaluable information about their success. Recent theorizing on onlinecommunities (Preece, 2004; Bagozzi and Dholakia, 2002; Ridings et al., 2002)suggests that an important characteristic that all online communities share is text-based communication, and that information sharing constitutes an essentialelement in fostering online community use and thereby success. For example,Yang and Lai (2008) argue that if everyone in the virtual community plays the roleof free-rider, i.e., acquiring the information without sharing, the community wouldcollapse.While information sharing has been found to be a motivation for using onlinecommunities (Wasko and Faraj, 2000), ensuring information quality or inducingquality content, however, remains a challenge (Chen et al., 2007). Valck et al.(2009) discuss that communities can facilitate computer-mediated interactionsbetween members by providing a code of conduct that specifies communitystandards with regard to behavior, language or content, and that is regulated byonline community managers. For example, Slashdot has constructed a moderationsystem that has been recognized for its quality of content unlike many other social
networks. On Slashdot, each comment posted by a user, receives a score rangingfrom -1 to 5, indicating the quality of the comment. Once a comment is posted, it may be checked or “moderated” by selected users who can change its scoreaccording to the quality of information provided (Chen et al., 2007).The scholarly literature emphasizes the importance of moderating content inonline communities. Davis (2005) argues that community moderation appearsessential for the discussions to run smoothly. In order to achieve this, moderatorsare given the power and authority to remove any content that does not correspond with the community’s policy (Johnson et al., 2004; Preece, 2001).Several ways of power use to moderate online content have been discussed in thepast (Edwards, 2002; Wright, 2006). For instance, moderators use their power tofilter, facilitate and help online discussions by removing those that disrespect community’s rules, as well as mediate when individuals come into conflict.
However, as observed in the literature, moderators have not always used thepower that is given to them to regulate information sharing in the right way, asonline community moderation if done incorrectly can be worse than having nomoderation at all. This is confirmed by Wright (2009) who claims that “the fearremains, however, that the power to moderate the content of online forums maybe abused.” Wright (2009) also explains that this could be done when moderatorsuse their power to set overly restrictive rules or ignore ‘fair’ rules and deletemessages.Despite the fact that online communities have existed for almost 30 years, littleresearch has been done on how moderators can influence user’s willingness toshare information. Interestingly, we find that there is a gap in existing literature astheories about online communities (Ridings et al., 2002) focus on just one part of community members, users, without taking into consideration moderators. Wealso observe that past research mostly discusses that moderation is positive(Preece and Maloney-Krichmar, 2003; De Schutter et al., 2004; Berge, 1996).Strangely enough, negative ways of power use to achieve moderation have not been examined thoroughly.
To comprehend the concept of power that is given tomoderators, it is wise to examine the existing literature on power and authority.According to Ba (2001) and Bahruth (2000) power is often defined as the capacityfor one social unit (e.g., the leader) to determine the behavior of another (e.g.,

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