The construct of a virtual community varies greatly, just as a community does in the real world. The blogosphere is one example of a virtual community. While one person typically authors a blog, many can participate, comment and question assumptions and opinions espoused by the author. A virtual community is also an avenue for sharing of intellectual property, either music, books or artwork etc.
In the case of major blogs or online media, comments are typically regulated along with a published code of ethics (SMH 2011) which contributors are expected to follow. Moderated well, no one should suffer, as offensive comments are never published. In the more informal virtual world of Facebook, MySpace and less structured blogs, people’s hurtful comments can seriously impact the author and in some cases lead to self-harm. Social media sites, probably the largest of any virtual community, are regularly reported in the news (Green 2010) as youth and adults take drastic and sometimes-fatal actions based on comments about their personal behaviour, whether factual or manufactured.
In describing the different personality types within the virtual communities, Renninger describes a more subtle form of abuse.
Strategic positioning may also mean strategic forwarding of data or information: brokers may delay, edit, embellish, or add interpretation to the information they receive. Collaborative brokers may facilitate information exchange, but competitive brokers may not. In learning environments, we may need to monitor whether group activities promote collaborative activity (e.g., rewarding early results may lead to information hoarding rather than information sharing, thereby working against the notions of collaborative learning). (Renninger et al. p.178)
Who should moderate these virtual groups or social media sites? Perhaps one solution rests in understanding how such behaviour is addressed in the real world. When a person is unjustly spoken of, friends hopefully come to their defence. While this response may be gallant, if the information leaked is of a personal nature, no amount of defence can take back what has been said. We have defamation laws to cover such behaviour, however lawmakers are slow to catch up with the increasing pace of change in the world of the Internet (Hirst & Harrison p.266).
In addition to defamation, the illegal access to and download of intellectual property causes great concern for large companies (Ong 2005) and the creative artists, writers etc. who create such work. My personal belief is that behaviour in the online world should mirror or be closely aligned with the real world. Laws need to be enacted that provide protection for all participants; laws that reflect the values of society should not differ for the online world. The global nature of the Internet and these virtual communities brings a high degree of complexity to finding the right solution, however I’m confident we will find a way to ensure personal liberties and freedom of speech are maintained.
Green, G 2010, Teen’s murder sparks Facebook privacy plea, Viewed online 29 May 2011.
Hirst, M & Harrison, J 2011, Communication and the New Media, from Broadcast to Narrowcast, Oxford University Press, Australia & New Zealand.
Ong, J 2005, Sony, Warner, EMI Sue Baidu Over Free Music Downloads (Update4), viewed online 29 may 2011.
Renninger , K. & Shumar, W 2002, Building Virtual Communities: Learning and Change in Cyberspace. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England.
SMH, 2011, The Sydney Morning Herald Code of Ethics, viewed online 29 May 2011.
Schroeder, R 1996, Possible Worlds: The Social Dynamic of Virtual Reality Technology, Westview Press, Boulder, CO., USA.
Preece, J 2000, Online Communities: Designing Usability, Supporting Sociability, John Wiley & Sons, New York, NY, USA.