A cyber-ethos is, effectively, what most people would refer to as a community on the internet. It is a collective of people on the internet who are contributing to one, centralized internet culture that puts it apart from other internet cultures. Classic examples would be the SCP Foundation, general 4chan culture, and the various deep iFunny communities.
For those engrossed in internet memetics, such as myself, these cyber-ethoses serve as the cultural upstream from which most of the internet deviates from. The OC content of these places nourishes the web with its artistic flare and autistic zest. It’s the contemporary form of obscure culture and art clubs in the real world.
Cyber-ethoses are vital to the internet’s ability to be novel. If there were no cyber-ethoses, then internet culture would merely capitulate to mainstream culture. The internet would be as boring as TV or radio.
For a cyber-ethos to be successful, it must first live. On the internet, I find that cyber-ethoses form by bringing like-minded people together for one cause or another. This can be a digital friend group, a real friend group, people who happened to splinter from a larger cyber-ethos, or people attracted to a certain creator’s work. Whatever the collection method may be, it must happen. These people must also create content for their group exclusively. The content itself need not be self-referential, but it does need to, at least at first, stay insular to the group. Non-original content may be traded here as well (as diffusion of content between cyber-ethoses is necessary to consolidate something as an actual trend).
Groups like these only evolve from the status of friend group to cyber-ethos after they are capable of creating something influential and original. Influence is vague, and originality is vaguer, but you will know when you see it.
Original content, for example, could be a new format of meme, a style of shitposting, a new video game or game server with its own community, a new intellectual idea, or really anything that is capable of being spread successfully beyond the confides of the cyber-ethos, while still largely originating from it. Influence, is the ability for the cyber-ethos’ ideas to infect others and spread. If a meme is made in one place, but then spreads to another place, who adds their own spin in tribute to the original meme, then the original cyber-ethos making the meme has influence, and could be said to be imperalizing.
Cultural existence, sustenance, imperialism
A cyber-ethos, once it makes itself unique and interesting will become “a place to be”. It’s not just a boring, interchangeable friend-group, it’s now a place of content creation, ranking, and distribution. A hub of culture that will diffuse its works out to the masses given time. The important thing about these groups is their ability to keep creating when their creation diffuses to the public. A cyber-ethos that fails to be able to create after its work is distributed is effectively dead, relegated back to friend-group status.
So long as sufficiently original content can be created by the group, it will live, and even thrive. If a cyber-ethos is successful enough, it may have tributary work done to its ethos. That is, other groups that are culturally near, down stream, or adjacent to the cyber-ethos will adopt the customs, language, and content style of the imperial cyber-ethos. In such a case, the influence of such a group will expand as people copy and distribute the methodology and styles of such a productive group.
This is a form of imperialism on behalf of the cyber-ethos, as it spreads its cultural influence outwards, and downwards, to make what it thinks is quality spread.
Depending on how imperial or productive a cyber-ethos is, it may experience a golden age. A golden age is one where the ethos of the cyber-ethos is most alive. It is productive in creating quality content, average content from the cyber-ethos is good, and generally people are in agreement about what is good or bad content. Relationships between members of a cyber-ethos are also generally good in this time.
Golden ages attract attention. If the borders to a cyber-ethos are open, then the cyber-ethos may be overrun with new members. New members, depending on their cultural similarity, neuroticism (or lack there of), and other various traits, can either be disastrous or new life into the cyber-ethos.
Golden ages don’t last forever and, usually after a golden age, a painful period for the cyber-ethos may be experienced. This pain can often kill a cyber-ethos.
The important thing to note with golden ages is that these are peaks of creation and distribution of content, and their influence on the internet will be felt for quite a while. Early 4chan is a great example of a cyber-ethos in a golden age, as many of the icons and jokes that came out of that site, during its peak era, still persist today, even if the original culture of the site does not. Golden ages need not produce things as influential as old 4chan memes, but the general concept of higher-than-average influence is what is important.
Unfortunately, a cyber-ethos after its golden age tends to fizzle out. Either the administrators of the cyber-ethos are revealed to be horrible people, tensions internally create bad blood, the new users overrun the old ones, killing off the old talent that gave the cyber-ethos its identity, or any other form of action or activity that makes the cyber-ethos run dry on its ability to create.
An event of fizzling out isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A group can go into slumber, then hit back again with more weight, causing a second golden age. A group can say its goodbyes and simply return to being a friend group (from which another cyber-ethos can be born). A group can even just return to it’s pre-golden age days, although this type of event is rare and general entropy and loss of interest may just kill a cyber-ethos that does this.
Either way, something happens to bring down the golden age. The internet moves on, and the cyber-ethos’ direct influence and power wains to its pre-golden age days, or down to nothing.
Fizzling out does not mean that the cyber-ethos is necessarily dead, it’s just no longer capable of the heights of the golden age. Depending on how large the slump is, this could be the difference between average-quality and average-influence content from the cyber-ethos, to below-average content and influence. In some cases, the fizzling out could mean the death of the cyber-ethos, where content ceases to spread, or ceases to be influential entirely.
Sometimes, a fizzling out is caused by external factors. Administrative changes, drama between users, or other activities that changes how a group operates. In such an event, if the event doesn’t outright kill all interest in the cyber-ethos’ ethos, an orthodox splinter may form.
Orthodox splinters are splinters that wish to reclaim the old ways of a cyber-ethos. They declare themselves a community in dedication to what once was. Depending on the trauma that caused the fracturing in the first-place, this orthodox community may define itself as “the old ways minus what originally killed us.”
Orthodox splinters like this are usually small, filled with old-guard, and may have a troubled chance of making it in the long run. Orthodox splinters that splintered due to the community being rife with outsiders will become against spreading their own name. Orthodox splinters that splintered because of the actions of a certain person may become hostile towards that specific person. Orthodox splinters that splintered because of general administrative changes may be hostile to anything that resembles what they left.
Orthodox splinters may or may not be successful in restoring the old ways. It all depends on why they split, the old guard that did split, and if the old-guard can convince other OC creators to come over. In situations where the death was due to being overrun with outsiders, I personally have found it unlikely the splinter makes it due to the original group that was splintered still holding onto the name recognition from its golden era, even if everything that made it magical was gone.
If an Orthodox splinter is successful, it usually ends up continuing the old culture, but moving in a different direction. It’ll never return to a golden age, but it can become its own thing, different from what it splintered from, yet still familiar and with the whimsy of the old days. Orthodox splinters are often how new cyber-ethoses are born, as the old guard who made something good leave in an organized fashion to get away from what caused them problems.
There are certain actions that can be taken to preserve a cyber-ethos from falling. However, most of these actions, in themselves, can become the death of a cyber-ethos. Most of the tricks here are about slow growth, sustainability, and general conservative action so that the cyber-ethos makes it for as long as possible. So long as the suggestions are taken only when necessary, it should be fine.
Invite-only from day one.
Cyber-ethoses that are open to the public have a much harder time surviving due to the ease at which outsiders can flood in. Outsiders that flood in can be incredibly damaging to a group due to their unfamiliarity with the host ethos. To curb this, ensuring that a cyber-ethos is invite-only from day one is a guaranteed way to curb the flow of outsiders.
Invites don’t even need to be given out by administration, just having a limited amount of invites per user, per month could be enough to ensure that everything grows slowly and safely. Only those who know a member can come in, and that should keep everything sane.
There is an issue with this in the early days: If you can’t get a healthy population, you can’t have a cyber-ethos. So, you’ll need to start with a sufficient population to get everything going.
At least, invite-only after day two.
To solve the population problem, you can temporarily have public invites to everyone. If someone comes in at the very beginning, they can be grandfathered into the invite rule. This could get you enough people in the start so long as what you do attracts the right people near the start. This will require being unique in some way, or already having a set of talented people to jump-start the group.
If you must allow everyone in, make it so the cyber-ethos is self-filtering/jannied.
This is the riskiest and least effective of the options. Self-filtering systems that aren’t just glorified block-lists will necessitate the culture of a group being so toxic to outsiders people, that they’ll never step foot into it. This is possible to maintain if your cyber-ethos never becomes popular and is so niche that people don’t want to get into it. Situations like these are very unlikely as, any place that becomes a cyber-ethos, by definition, becomes a culturally important place that is desirable to enter.
The other option to self-filtering, would be the janitor. These are power users whose job it is to enforce the cultural norm on the site. Users like these tend to promote an opinionated form of what they think the culture ought to be, which contributes greatly to stagnation. Janitors also tend to suppress the more eccentric aspects of a cyber-ethos, which in all likelihood are the necessary autistic chaos and edge that drives a good portion of content creation.
Cyber-ethoses should only adopt a janitorial approach if the cyber-ethos happens to be strictly about one topic. For example, Kiwifarms is for discussing lolcows, it makes sense if janitors there enforce the topicality of their forums and sub-forums, otherwise the very identity of the place will be under duress. Other places, that hold a more general topic, likely do not need as many janitors, as they’ll harm the community overall.
One middle ground would be for self-selected filtering, so everything can be permitted, but you can opt out of seeing content you do not want, the issue then with this is that this may create bubbles of people who do and don’t see certain things, and split the culture off. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, but it will mean that, if a cyber-ethos forms, it’ll be one specific section of a website or community, and not the other section.
Benevolent Dictatorships are good for moderation.
Keeping the amount of janitors to a low number is a good tactic to keep the power dynamics in a cyber-ethos small. Janitors have their own vision of a group, and they’ll imprint that vision into their moderation. Because of this, less is more when it comes to dealing with rule enforcement.
If a cyber-ethos is small enough, one benevolent dictator may be enough to moderate the entire organization. As organizations grow, more janitors are necessary, in such cases, janitors should merely be an extension of the dictator’s will about how to guide the group.
Run-away janitors are usually unaccountable to the public due to being hidden-away behind dictatorial or administrative figureheads. These janitorial staff are usually the ones ultimately cleaning up websites, and unless a dictator watches like a hawk, and removes anyone for violating the rules of janitors, it’ll be difficult to enforce rules.
So, less is more, and automatic moderation is even better. Humans not being involved means that rules can be autisticly defined, and executed with precision. Everything that isn’t against the rules is permissible because of that, and the cyber-ethos can flourish in these other areas. Exceptional situations may require exceptional actions from moderation, but this should come from a dictator of a cyber-ethos, and not the common rule enforcer.
Influence is key to longevity, population is not.
For a cyber-ethos to make it long term, it must have influence. This is because, like all things, cyber-ethoses die. If a cyber-ethos’ style of content creation can be mirrored in adjacent or down-stream cyber-ethoses, then the spirit of the cyber-ethos can jump from one organization to another, preserving its truest form.
In some cases, if a cyber-ethos is so influential, it may be revived by its down-stream cultural partners In such cases, old-guard from the old cyber-ethos may become involved in the old tributary cyber-ethoses, or even revive the main group, for true revival of the culture that once dominated.
Population is not a key factor in this type of revival, instead, influence is. The more foreign groups a cyber-ethos has cultural control over, the more likely a revival of some form will become possible.
The more people involved in a cyber-ethos directly means more people to cause trouble in the cyber-ethos. More trouble means more bad blood, and bad blood can hinder the revival of a cyber-ethos greater than anything. The ideal is to keep it small, but highly influential.
Know when to stop.
Sometimes, a cyber-ethos is just dead. The fun is gone, the old guard has left, and it’s unlikely that anything influential will come out of the place again. Situations like these necessitate that, whoever leads the place, kill the cyber-ethos, lest it turns into a shell of its former self. Shutting a place down and leaving before things get bad prevents bad blood. You can’t have drama if a place doesn’t exist.
However, once a place is gone, it’ll stay a good memory. A good memory is something that can be made real again by the work of old guard individuals, who can spawn a new, similar cyber-ethos to the old one, and start influencing again. This can only happen if everything ends without hard feelings. If everything falls apart because people hate each other, the cyber-ethos will never have a chance of returning. Ironically, killing a thing is sometimes the best way to keep it alive, at least long term.