When the internet was created one of the main purposes it had was to communicate. As we have seen the internet develop we have also seen the way people communicate advance as well. There are many forms of social media today such as IRC, Usenet, and MUDs/MOOs. Out of all these types of online communication I have chosen to observe a Usenet political group from California. I chose this particular social media because I thought it would be interesting to see the views that the west had on this year’s upcoming election pertaining to John McCain.
This was not my first choice for observation; I was first looking at a Google group or Usenet group that spoke about both sides of the election process. I was excited to see how people from both sides would react to each other in an online forum. I had to change to a different Usenet group after what I had witnessed there, clearly there was a problem of cooperation. In Managing the Virtual Commons by Peter Kollock and Marc Smith they talk about this problem and how it effects the social media community. Kollock and Smith state that “The temptation is to enjoy a public good without contributing to its production, but if all reach this decision, the good is never created and all suffer”. This means that if people just leach off other people’s thoughts and ideas but never contribute their own then the group will die. This also works the other way around if only one person is doing all the contributing and not letting any other members contribute then the group will die as well. According to Kollock and Smith Ostrom states that this is called a “free-rider problem”(Ostrom 1990:6). Kollock and Smith talk about how in a Usenet it essential for contributers to take turns or else the communication will crowd up and breakdown. In this group there was barely any start up rules causing in my opinion a breakdown of communication. Once you join the group it is possible for you to come into the group and create as much noise or spam as you want. So what I witnessed happening in this newsgroup was a collapse in communication. Also on top of that anybody and everybody were bashing each other on any side of the argument. What most Usenet groups do is setup a list of boundaries to prevent this from happening. When observing this group I believe that they wanted this type of wild and free bashing community to spark debate but did not realize that it would be a free for all. After a day in this group I could not stay and moved on to a group with a similar topic but more boundaries.
The new group that I started to observe was called John McCain for president, this was a much better organized Usenet group in my opinion. This group was based in the west coast and this is what really made want to read what people though of this potential president elect. Upon first entering I was not allowed to post anything yet, there were some restrictions which I thought were great. Unlike the first Usenet group I observed I had to catchup on the weeks topic first before I could contribute any of my opinions. This was interesting in a good way to me because that meant people were not coming into this group and bombarding it with spam, it meant that in this group there was an actual form of discussion. What I observed on the first day was that there was a concern for Sarah Palin who is John McCain’s running mate. When she was first announced by McCain to be his running mate there was immediate controversy. She had many topics to talk about and what I read was, since the most media was sceptic of her she had many difficult questions to answer. What I observed was that this really made the group uneasy or at least a couple of key members. They feared this decision would stagger McCain’s progress by filling voters heads with uncertainty.
On the next day there were many issues that I found interesting and humorous. Apparently McCain did not talk about the problems of hurricane Ike very properly. People in the group thought that he could have done a better job. Someone in the group posted a link to a recording of what he had said, so I watched it to get my own opinion. What I saw was great, I thought that McCain had addressed the topic very properly, and informed the public of what he would do if there was another Katrina event. I did not know the problem here but because I was a new member and did not want to bash anybody in the group so I did not say anything. Later in the day I went back to check on the group which I thought was weird, this group was almost becoming an obsession to see what people would say. As Kollock and Smith state almost two million people around the world participate in these groups and I now understand why. When you become part of a group it makes you want to contribute and participate more often . In these types of groups it is like having a bunch of friends who are always in the mood to talk with you about topics you share a common interest in. When I went back to see if anybody posted something new I noticed a post called “Obamonopoly”. After viewing this I thought anybody who saw this would laugh,but everyone in the group was outraged. I guess humor on the west coast is running thin.
When entering the group this time I was very excited. The other day when I left the group I joined the e-mail list to get daily or weekly e-mail of what was going on in recent conversation. The e-mail that I had received was very interesting, it spoke about having a party or event to raise money for McCain’s campaign. This showed me that the members of this group did not only talk about supporting McCain they actually came up with ways to do it physically and monetarily. I received this e-mail from the same man who posted the “Obamonopoly” so I started to think that he is the leader of this Usenet group.
After observing this Usenet group over the past week I have not only learned many things about communication on the internet but I have gotten very interested in using it. I am now a member of this group and have joined two others, I check these groups constantly throughout the week. There is one thing that I wish I could have observed, the way gender plays into social media. Kollock and smith say that because the internet is blind to gender you can assume any roll you please. I have yet to see when the roll you take if man or woman really effects you in a group yet, but I hope to see how it plays out. Seeing how the internet transforms our world and the way we communicate is very interesting to me, and now that I am a member of multiple groups it is like having an inside look on what is happening next.
Kollock, Peter & Smith Marc. (1996). Managing the virtual commons: Cooperation and conflict in computer communities. In susan C. Herring (Ed.), Computer-mediated communications: :Linguistic, social and cross-cultural perspectives (pp. 109-128). Philadelphia: John Benjamins.