The ACORN voter registration debacle has been in the news a bit of late, and I've been giving it some thought. Senator McCain, in the last presidential debate got rather vitriolic over ACORN's collecting of registrations from fictional, non-existant, and otherwise bogus registratants. His quote:
We need to know the full extent of Senator Obama’s relationship with ACORN, who is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy...
Of course, as we have since learned there was no voter registration fraud. The law requires ACORN to turn-in the registrations even if they know they are bogus. Someone else makes the determination whether Mickey Mouse might actually be eligible to vote--not ACORN. If there were to be voter fraud it would only happen should some of the ineligible people actually attempt to vote.
That said, ACORN's goals were quite admiral:
Registering to vote is one of the first steps toward becoming a full participant in American democracy and a citizen who can influence change in a community...
For the 2008 election, ACORN intends to help 1.2 million people register to vote in 26 states across the country.
Their strategy, however, was a disaster. They hired people to register voters, and paid them for each registration they collected. That the workers padded their numbers with fake registrations in order to increase their remuneration is supposed to be shocking? Ummm, no, that is exactly the result that you would expect. Paying people to register voters is a very bad idea. Actually, it's such a bad idea that it should be against the law. There are more than enough people who are passionate enough about this cause that it should be an entirely volunteer driven endeavor.
It's the same dynamic with social media in the enterprise. People should be driven to participate in these systems because it's the right thing to do--collaboration, teamwork, transparency, sharing, pride... As soon as you turn these activities into an economic transaction then the motives for participation have forever been borked. ACORN has provided us with a very publicly embarrassing example of this social media antipattern in action. False incentives lead to false participation, and the results are always bad.