Plein’s Laws of Social Dynamics

By | March 10, 2016

While observing poor self-moderation in a Slack channel, I came up with the following observations, that I am coining “Plein’s Laws of Social Dynamics” due to their forced similarity to the Laws of Thermodynamics.


First Law of Social Dynamics

“A vibrant and well focused forum/channel/page tends to stay vibrant and well focused.”

In other words, forums/channels/pages have momentum. A vibrant, well moderated (self-moderated or imposed moderation) forum or channel will continue to thrive. An empty, quiet channel will tend to remain empty. A rampant off-topic or troll-infested forum will tend to stay that way without intervention.

Second Law of Social Dynamics

“Left un-moderated, a forum/channel/page will increasingly be diluted with off-topic posts.”

While the First Law would tend to say that left untouched, things remain the same, in reality, there is no such thing as “untouched”. Off-topic, crap-posting, and trolls will tend to drag a channel or forum down if left un-moderated. Social Media Entropy.

Third Law of Social Dynamics

“As the activity of a forum/channel/page approaches zero, the number of trolls and off-topic posts also approaches zero.”

This law simply states the obvious, that if you have no activity, there’s no bad activity. This is trivial, but the ramifications are profound:

  • You can “put out a fire” by locking a channel or forum into read-only mode. Zero activity results in zero breaches of Social Hygiene. Trolls get tired and move on. Good posters tend to start policing the bad posts. People reflect on their community and the need for good posting habits. This puts everyone on alert, and when you unlock it, you can do so with stipulations (additional moderation, etc.) to get things under control. If you don’t change the moderation levels, things will go back to the way they were (2nd law)
  • More importantly, and more profound: There is no “Perfectly Run Forum”. There will always be trolls. There will always be users to don’t care about forum rules. And there will always be good community members who simply make a mistake and post off-topic. The only way to ensure that there are no bad posts is to have no posts at all, and that’s not good for anyone.

The Third Law is mistakenly restated as “The only way to fix this is to burn it down”. While that may be true, it’s not the fix for poorly moderated or run forums or Slack Channels.


Self Moderation is an ideal goal, where users actively try to keep things organized. This works well for most internal (work related) forums or Slack channels.  In public forums, you can layer that with active moderation (privileged users who can clean up forums and optionally enforce rules), and if successful, can enjoy a troll-free, focused community.

I’ve been one of the biggest failures at keeping a community focused and troll-free. But I’ve learned from it. I hope the above captures it well.

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