Who would cheat at the church social?
"Hey, I know we were supposed to bring handmade food, but I bought some cheap macaroni salad and dumped it into a bowl and faked it..." "Yeah, well I got in line twice and got more food than anyone else, in fact, one old guy (my cousin!) didn't even get any..." "That's nothing! I didn't bother to bring anything..."
No one brags about subverting a community they care about, because your peers will ostracize you (and why would you hurt a group that you are part of?). No, we feed the community first, then we take our share.
On the other hand, we often return a rental car unwashed, or turn a blind eye to someone sneaking into the movies, or fail to report a mistake in our favor by the credit card company. That's because those institutions are apart from us, not a part of us. They transact with us, charge us interest, take what they can get. This is not a community to be fed, it's merely a way to buy what we need, and the system is impersonal, industrial, apparently made to be gamed.
With online tribes and communities, though, instead of adopting the principle of not peeing in your own pool, it's easy to slip into the same mindset of us vs. them. When you sock puppet wikipedia, or vandalize the comments on a blog, who is being hurt?
One way to look at the web is that it's billions of people, anonymous, a shooting gallery of others. The other way is to visualize the smaller circles, the tribes of interdependent human beings helping and being helped.
When we steal or disrupt or game the system of a community we care about, we hurt everyone we say we're connected to, and thus hurt ourselves.
Online communities are quick to form, but they're just as quick to fade, to become less open and to become less trusting because sometimes we have a cultural orientation toward taking, not giving. We forget to feed the network first, to take care of those we care about.
Here's a possible standard: is it open, fair and good for others? If it's not, the community asks that you take your selfish antics somewhere else.
Call me naive, but I think it's possible (and likely) that the digital tribes we're forming are going to actually change things for the better. But not until we embrace the fact that we are us.