Evaluating Consent and Legitimacy Amongst Shifting Community Norms: an EVE Online Case Study
The legitimate resolution of disputes in online environments requires a complex understanding of the social norms of the community. The conventional legal approach to resolving disputes through literal interpretation of the contractual terms of service is highly problematic because it does not take into account potential conflict with community expectations. In this paper we examine the importance of consent to community governance and argue that a purely formal evaluation of consent is insufficient to legitimately resolve disputes. As online communities continue to grow in importance to the lives of their participants, the importance of resolving disputes legitimately, with reference to the consent of the community, will also continue to grow. We present a case study of botting and real money trading in EVE Online that highlights the dynamic interaction of community norms and private governance processes. Through this case study, we argue that the major challenge facing regulators of online environments is that community norms are complex, contested, and continuously evolving. Developing legitimate regulatory frameworks then depends on the ability of regulators to create efficient and acceptable modes of dispute resolution that can take into account (and acceptably resolve) the tension between formal contractual rules and complex and conflicting community understandings of acceptable behaviour.
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