Social Networks need an Eldership

Bear with me here, this isn’t yet fully formed and I would welcome some feedback as to the logic in the suggestion.

I have seen communities using Twitter as a hub lurch and change as they accommodate new ‘members’.  This is inevitable, but avoidable.

However, I think these communities are not dissimilar to house churches……(I am not claiming Twitter is a religion)

There is a shared passion, a need to build friendships (fellowship) and share in learning and developing the passion the members share.

Now, house churches have been doing their thing for many many years and some lessons have been learned.

Below is an extract from a blog by Steve Atkerson which I have  altered to fit a community using Twitter, rather than a house church.

Advantages of Having Elders

It would be a serious blunder to conclude that elders are unimportant. Some members are divisive, others promote unfounded and dangerous ideas, and still others pass others’  ideas off as their own.   Too often, communities without ‘qualified’ (wise) elders fall in a type of  malaise.  No one takes leadership responsibility.  Things just coast along.  Study of the body of knowledge relating to the field is minimal.  In many cases, it becomes a case of the blind leading the blind.  Pooled ignorance in “teaching” becomes the norm.  Evident misconceptions are overlooked.  Social problems are not dealt with.  The community can become vulnerable to wolves in sheep’s’ clothing. 

Elders are what the fighter planes would have been to the bombers:  protection.  One important role that elders offer is defense against “savage wolves”.  For instance, elders are men who can “refute” those who advocate ideas that are unsound. 

A community  is likely to attract every unattached heretic, rebel and social misfit in the county.  Without elders willing to stand at the gate to intercept and deal with such persons, a community is particularly vulnerable to abuse, strife, frustration, and  even disbanding. 

Besides fending off wolves, elders serve the body in many other ways.  In many respects, a community without an elder is much like a family without a parent.  Worthy elders provide direction, teach, disciple, help the community achieve consensus, lead by example and guard the truth  Elders are those of mature character who oversee, shepherd, teach, equip and coach.  Every now and then they will need to call on the obstinate to wind their necks in a bit.

It is my suggestion that our lovely community of practise of educators using Twitter would benefit from us acknowledging those we believe are the natural ‘Elders’ and empowering them to watch over things a bit.  And, by the way, I am not qualified.

15 thoughts on “Social Networks need an Eldership

  1. As you know, I think this is an interesting concept. However, I am not clear about how you might suggest elders take on this role? I think in any community similar elders emerge based on the respect of people in the community for either their actions or their wisdom. In a loosely organised community, such as the educational twitter one, perhaps people feel unjustified or unwilling to assert themselves as elders in the same way as in a more defined group. I think there are certain ‘elders’ in this community already, that position coming from respect rather than any kind of appointment.

    …and yet, perhaps as Kevin Kelly suggested in ‘Out of control’, the more connected we become the more distributed our thinking and the less the need for leadership ( as we become more like a hive.

    Rather than seeking the checks and balances of elders, perhaps we need to accept these communities, like biological systems, are ‘poised in the persistent state of almost falling’ (

    • I simply want to empower the group to name and call upon the elders for guidance – you are right, the identity of the elders is always evident. If the community says its ok for them to gently shepherd then the new community I am proposing will not go feral.

      Finally bees aren’t selfish, people are. Bees are programmed to work for the good of the hive. People have to actively work to adopt that mindset and often slip up.

      Hence the need for elders.

  2. As an older social network user the one thing which springs to mind in regard to ‘eldership’ in any community is the knowledge (memory) caused by age.
    I run every statement which begins with “back in the day” through my personal (please excuse this expression) ‘bullshitometer’.
    Does the view, statement stand up in relationship to what I remember about being “back in the day’.
    If it does not stand up I use IMHO to have my say.
    If that is part of having elders in online communities, then I think your concept is a good one.

  3. One of the good things about twitter communities is that they come without all the staff room politics we have to deal with in real life. People can join a community or a conversation without having the pre-judgement that would come with any comment made in school meetings. The lack of hierarchy is refreshing.

    But most of us also have a habit of following only those who say things we already concur. We therefore end up in groups of twitter people and there is no check on unfounded comments and opinions. A falsehood can become accepted without any rigorous checking.

    However I am not sure that an elder would be the best way of achieving this. Twitter is a huge open room and works best because of it. But we all need to be aware of idly accepting what is being said. It is time to follow more people who we agree with.

    • Wouldn’t the more productive answer be to follow more people who we don’t always agree with? To try to address what Pariser terms ‘The Filter Bubble’? (

      I thought that was what you were suggesting but the last line confused me.

      I understand what you are saying about staffroom politics, but I think the education twitter community has in some areas matured to the point its politics are little different from those.

      • it was very early in the morning. i meant to write the last line as “follow more people whom you DONT agree with” #drinksanothercoffee

  4. “Bismillah!”

    Just asking… Is a bee aware?

    Is awareness useful? How can we be sure?

    Are we (can we be) aware that we are a dynamic element of an organic self-organising system?

    Is awareness useful? How can we be sure?

    Are we aware that a community is one or many nodes of one or many social networks (depending on the moment and the point of view)?

    Who are we if we are nodebody?

    Is awareness useful? How can we be sure?

    Are we learning for a() reason(s)?
    Are our elders universal attractors?
    Does chaos have values?

    Who cares? For what?

    Wisdom takes us time to recognise…It is to be hoped that we recognise it before our “bee time” is up.

    Just asking…Do bees care?

    Is caring useful? How can we be sure?

    Does nothing really matter?

    “Anyway the wind blows…”

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