Misbehavior in cyber places: The regulation of online conduct in virtual communities on the Internet
This study of computer-mediated interpersonal communication examines misbehavior and the regulation of online conduct in virtual communities on the Internet. Informed by Erving Goffman's Behavior in Public Places (1963) and Joshua Meyrowitz's No Sense of Place (1985), the theoretical framework used derives from a branch of communication scholarship known as media ecology. The context of this investigation is explained by reviewing basic intellectual traditions in media ecology and surveying research in the field concerning: space and place; situations, rules, and rule-breaking; and mediated interpersonal communication. Overviews are also provided of mainstream research on computer-mediated communication (CMC) in online environments and on virtual communities.
The research method used was philosophical inquiry. The corpus of data analyzed involved three bodies of related source literature addressing: trouble brewing in cyberspace; cybercrime and law-breaking on the Internet; and misbehavior and rule-breaking in virtual communities. Asynchronous post and synchronous chat environments were considered: the Internet overall; electronic mailing lists (listservs); Usenet newsgroups; Internet Relay Chat (IRC); MUDs and MOOs; the Palace; independent bulletin board systems (BBSs); networks like America Online and CompuServe; and the World Wide Web.
The analysis revealed three sets of activities involved in the regulation of online conduct in virtual communities: rule-breaking, rule-making, and rule-enforcement. Several situational variables influencing these activities in different types of online environments were identified: roles and their relationships (rule-breakers, rule-makers, and rule-enforcers); degrees of temporal co-presence (asynchronous/delayed communication versus synchronous/immediate); and levels of access (open environments versus closed/restricted).
Three main conclusions were drawn: first, behavioral boundaries replace physical boundaries in CMC as cyber places provide novel environments for social interaction; second, interest is growing in local approaches to regulating online conduct; and third, misbehavior online has parallels in the offline world, particularly where people transact with strangers. This study suggests that gathering for social interaction in cyber places and participating actively in the regulation of online conduct may help promote a new sense of social place and civic concern affecting people's everyday behavior and communication, both online and off.
0723: Information Systems
0700: Social structure
0326: Cultural anthropology