In many ways, online communities are like real world communities. They are populated by real people with the same desires, needs, and expectations, only they are interacting through a computer network rather than face to face. Like members of other communities, the citizenry of online groups have developed certain expectations about the behavior of members and visitors in their community and methods of dealing with anti-social behavior.
In this process of development, three broad types of government (or non-government) have appeared: democracy, autocracy, and anarchy. Just as in the real world, the applications of these government models to actual groups and communities varies with the circumstances: the history, the people involved, the purpose (if any), etc. And just as in the real world, these governments are variably successful and unsuccessful: some communities manage to maintain stable, long-term governments, and others have jumped from one failed system to another.
Democratic systems give power to the entire citizenry of an online community through direct participation or representation. The open and tolerant environments created by democratic governance are often attractive to groups devoted to socializing and to real world communities transitioning to the online world. [learn more]
Autocracies are controlled by a privileged individual or minority. The actual governance can range in style from heavy-handed dictatorships to feudalism to simply content filtering. Many online communities use autocratic governments, but generally they occur in groups where control by a few super users is expedient and/or desired to maintain the community. [learn more]
Anarchy is essentially a state of free-for-all. In these communities, no one user or every user has control over the group. Conflicts occur periodically when an individual breaks an unwritten code of conduct of the community or another member, and are resolved by spontaneous individual or collective action. Communities that value complete freedom of expression or simply do not have the means or desire to implement government often choose anarchy despite its shortcomings. [learn more]