The Internet has become an environment in which users from around the world can access to become informed or discuss a vast and almost uncountable number of topics and issues. Usenet is a technology that serves as a discussion board or forum for users that allows them the ability to search for a particular topic, and either read or interact by joining in discussion with others about the categorized topic. According to Kollock and Smith, (1996) Usenet is a “collection of several thousand discussion groups that is distributed and maintained in a decentralized fashion” (p. 110). This technology has a few distinctions that make it unique from other interactive Internet programs. Usenet is asynchronous, which means that a message can be written and posted, not having to wait for an immediate reaction or response. Also, Usenet allows for the ability to have a moderator, which is a group of individuals that oversee the discussions, ensuring that threads aren’t out of place and the content is deemed “appropriate”. For the purpose of my examination, I selected to view a Boston Red Sox Usenet group that is maintained by the service provider of Google. Being very interested and well informed about the happenings of the team with regards to games and off field topics, I found the forum for the most part to be entertaining but informative as well. One major problem that was a daily occurrence that really drew away from discussing the Red Sox was all of the threads that were off topic, drawing away from the purpose of the forum. Below, I will provide specific examples and reasons why the Usenet community has a difficult time regulating itself, and how social norms are lost within the groups.
The biggest distraction that I discovered while viewing my Usenet groups was the inability for people to stay on the topic at hand. Everyday there would be countless numbers of threads started that had absolutely zero relation to the Boston Red Sox. I am not fully against having a couple topics about important issues happening in the world, but when one has to sift through primarily political threads to find one that pertains to the team, it can be very distracting as well as frustrating and time consuming. Users would post daily informing everybody that there are message boards dedicated to politics, even providing links, only to be ignored. It is sad to admit after my viewing of the board, but the political topics led each day with the number of responses that users made.
Another problem that caused a distraction was the action of “trolling”. This can be described as outsiders coming on to the board to deliberately argue, antagonize, and completely disrupt the topic of the discussions. This problem can relate to the disappearance of social norms as well, simply due to the fact that the words and phrases used would never take place during a face to face interaction. According to Kollock and Smith, (1996), “newsgroups remain relatively uncooperative places, filled with noise and argument” (p. 126). For example, a user named “Don V” would summarize every game about an hour afterwards, and actually provide very informative responses and analysis from the game. The purpose of his thread is to start a discussion among board regulars on the positives and negatives of each player, and some of the in-game decisions that were made. More times than not, users with the names “BoSoxSuck” and “YankeeFan4Life” will bombard the threads and destroy any productivity that was being made.
Under a lot of social norms, members of groups who repeatedly do not contribute constructively or orderly will be disbanded. When dealing with the online community, especially when ones real identity is hidden, it becomes very difficult to hold a structured debate on any topic. Even when using the discussions of politics in threads, users are so quick to jump down each others throat, telling them how wrong their beliefs are and they’re getting the wrong facts. Some people go as far as threatening the other users who disagree, stating how they wouldn’t say what they did if there wasn’t a computer network between the two. Obama versus McCain supporters are at each others throat daily, and racial slurs are profanity are sprawled throughout the threads making it a rather uncomfortable environment for the common readers.
One last issue that seemed to happen daily that just wasted space was outside companies advertisements. The community cannot stop all outside corporations and organizations from posting information about their websites and promotions. For example, there are shoe companies posting websites about sales, and drug companies posting information about male performance enhancement pills. Although at first I was curious how the ads got through and clicked on a few, they became easier to ignore but just wasted space.
Throughout my weekly viewing of the Boston Red Sox Usenet forum, I found it to be a rather interesting experience getting myself involved within a new community and understanding how people interacted amongst an unstructured environment. A lot of the information that was discussed relevant to the Red Sox could be very useful to those trying to follow and understand the team. Problems occurred when outsiders posted on the board to simply provoke unnecessary arguments. Social norms that occur in face to face situations can be seen scattered throughout, but when people can hide there identities, they are a lot more apt to lose social structures.
Kollock, Peter & Smith, Mark. (1996). Managing the virtual commons: Cooperation and conflict in computer communities. In Susan C. Herring (Ed.), Computer-mediated communication: Linguistic, social and cross-cultural perspectives (pp. 109-128).