Social Resistance in Virtual Communities

Social Resistance in Virtual Communities

Rahul De’ (Indian Institute of Management Bangalore, India)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59140-556-6.ch081
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Abstract

The period from 1994, after the release of the Web browser, Mosaic, until the turn of the century saw the upsurge of what was termed e-commerce, which grew into a much-hyped and much-invested proposition that followed a predictable cycle of boom and then bust. Though the value propositions of e-commerce, as promised in business-to-business, business-to-consumer, and consumer-to-consumer models, survived, they drew much more attention from the media and publications than was, possibly, due to them. What was happening simultaneously with the business explosion of the Web was the alternative use of the Internet as an arena of dissent—as an organizing medium, as an activist space, and as a medium for counter-propaganda. These phenomena were not necessarily unnoticed or in any way secretive in nature, but they did not occupy the front pages of the media, and they did not attract investors. These phenomena were both defined and adopted by people in various capacities to advance a cause, an idea, or simply act. There are 605.60 million users of the Internet worldwide, as estimated by the Scope Communications Group (http://www.nua.com), a Dublin-based company. Given that there are about 6.2 billion people in the world (Population Reference Bureau, http://www.prb.org) as a whole, the number of Internet users is about 9.6% of the total population. In comparison to television, where the estimates are around 4 billion viewers around the globe, the reach of the Internet seems to be small, but there remains a crucial and defining difference: the Internet enables users to participate in the content whereas television does not. Television and other media have tremendous reach but only as broadcast sources: a few control the content broadcast to many. The phenomena of virtual communities on the Internet was recognized early in the 1990s and was defined as groups of people that communicate via the Internet. This is the broadest possible definition. The Internet is a network of telecommunications networks, and its representation as a virtual community becomes possible as its members take for granted that the computer networks are also social networks spanning large distances (Wellman & Gulia, 1997). Aggregations of virtual communities form the society of the Internet, where the structure of this society is defined by the patterned organization of the network members and their relationships (Wellman, 1996). Defined in this manner, the Internet society is now amenable to analysis by sociological and political theories and constructs. Various communities and groups have emerged in the society of the Internet. These communities are distinguished by their thematic content and the delivery mechanism they use. Free service providers, such as Yahoo! Groups, support thousands of informal groups with restricted or unrestricted access that define communities in the broadest sense. Other types of communities include chat rooms, multi-user gaming, metaworlds, blogs, and interactive video and voice (Wallace, 1999). Communities may form and disband easily on the Internet. The Internet is thus a virtual space that is not constituted by physical objects of land, bricks, cement, furniture, but of a collection of files, folders, and accounts. These digital assets are created as quickly as they are destroyed; what perpetuates them is the common interest of the community. Further, the members of this community may be widely dispersed geographically and so may the files and accounts of the community, their physical presence, and geographic location at any point of time, i

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