Online Relationships - Part II
by Selina Kelley
Watching an Online Community.
First, I am in no way qualified in any field related to what I'm about
to discuss. My opinions are my own and should be taken with a side
order of apple pie and ice cream. All characters mentioned herein are
fictitious, and any bearing they may have on real life characters is
purely coincidental and unintentional. All information provided in this
article is provided "as is" with no warranties of any kind. The author
disclaims all liability of any kind arising out of your use of, or
misuse of, this article and the information contained and referenced
within it. My cat has three legs.
Who knows, maybe that is Bob doing the bobbing.
That being said, I'd like to bring up the topic of online communities.
In a previous article, I stated that an online relationship is not on
the same level as a real-life relationship. I hold to that belief.
However, in the last few months I have noticed something that wasn't
quite as clear to me before-- that while an online romantic
relationship is not similar to a real-life romantic relationship, that
online relationships as groups can certainly lead to what I would call
an online community.
A community that I have (albeit lurkishly) been a part of since early
1995 recently found itself in an uproar over one very voluble "member".
This person, whom for the purposes of fluidity I shall call "Bob", had
some very distinctly different views than almost all other members of
the community. At first, these views were quite intelligently argued
against by many members of the group, and Bob would post in turn, with
Very soon, however, the community felt it readily apparent that Bob
wasn't really interested in actual discussion or debate. Rather, he
wished to convert all members of the community to accept and welcome his
views and way of life.
Two months and quite a few hundred posts later, nothing has changed in
how Bob interacts with others, and many members of the community have
rallied together to reject Bob, and all he stands for.
Bob is a prime example of "the red headed step-child". Bob is not
accepted because he has differing views to the others in the community,
but moreover, Bob seems to consistently like to step over the line of
the average person's sense of morality and legality.
The amount of people that have responded to Bob is astounding. Having
(very early on) responded to him and since given up, I understand the
need for the community to attempt to change Bob's view in life. What's
more interesting, however, is the way the community is defining itself.
Ultimately, there will one day be a governing force of censorship, or
policing, on the Internet. However, in the present, the Internet is by
and large a self-governing entity. Online communities do what they must
to remove "unwanted" members. The reactive force of this particular
community against Bob was enormous. Within weeks information had spread
to sources that were far-reaching, and some even took it farther and
reported Bob to his ISPs, government officials, the press, etc.
So what began as a purely Internet-based conversation resulted in
significant "real-life" consequences-- and they're not done yet!
So how far does online anonymity go? Does this affect the way people
interact with each other online, and the way they interact in groups?
Is an online community comparable with a "real-life" community?
I've found that most certainly an online community carries the same
traits as a real-life community. There's the cliques, the elite, the
outcasts, the gossips, the backstabbers, the geeks. There's the mums
and dads, siblings, school friends, mates. The only seeming differences
are that they are online, and for the most part, anonymous.
The way people interact with each other seems similar-- there's the
researchers, the hotheads, the uninformed and the late-comers (you know,
walking in 4 hours late and asking "So, what's up??"), and while there
are no faces behind the names, generally it's difficult to "hide"
yourself when you're discussing basic moral and legal ethics.
So, is an online community the same as the community you live in?
Maybe. The main difference seems to be that most online communities are
made up of groups of people that have interests in common, while the
community you live in mostly has just its surrounding area in common.
I'm not sure how this affects the way I think of the Internet. I've
always acknowledged that there are real people behind the keyboards, but
it's startling sometimes how people, in general, automatically find
themselves following the same intellectual paths as they would normally
in the "real world".
Maybe the Internet is real after all. Or maybe my cat just has three
July 2000 Imaginary Realities, the magazine of your mind.
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