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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.
Bobbing for apples

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 his rebuttal.

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 legs.

Selina Kelley can most often by found on ProphecyMUD.