Positively Deviant: the role of moderately anti-normative behaviours in online forums

Fa Martin Niemi


Online discussion forums are social networks in which members share knowledge. They are dependent on normative behaviours to function and yet there is evidence of deviance within them. Extreme departures from social norms can damage network ties, however little has been written on moderate deviancy. This paper explores the positive consequences of moderately deviant behaviour on the health and wellbeing of an online discussion forum. The study used a thematic analysis of materials gathered during a three-month virtual ethnography of a technical forum for database developers. Themes identified were examined for the effect of positive deviance on the trust, network ties and technical problem solving. From this analysis a typology of deviant behaviours was developed, focussed on moderately deviant behaviours identified as the lawful stupid and in-crowd enforcers. The study suggests positive deviance influences network social norms by clarifying social rules. This positive outcome had a mitigating effect on the negative impact of deviance on interpersonal trust.


deviant behaviour; online discussion forums; social networks; social norms; trust

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