- Social Control
The History & Structure of Online Communities
Description: Graduate-level course (a Contemporary Issues seminar) focusing on interactions online
"The Moral Order of Cyberspace: Social Structure and Conflict Management on the Internet" by John Ellington (Ellis) Godard, Jr., published by University of Virginia (dissertation) (Dec 2004).
This dissertation investigates patterns of social control on the Internet. The study is informed, and the findings are organized, by a theoretical strategy invented by Donald Black (1976, 1993, and 1995) to explain variation in law. Specifically, the findings relate social characteristics of participants – including their relative social locations, and the social distances between them – to describe who is most likely to be wrong, who is most likely to be wronged, and how the expression of wrongs is shaped. The findings thus contribute to a growing body of literature that observes moral life not through individual transgressions, but in the social distribution of responses; and that thereby understands moral order not by fundamental distinctions of right and wrong, but as systematically patterned behavior. The explanatory model employed has five dimensions, each with several aspects, some measured here with more than one indicator. This model guided the design of sixty-three hypotheses, as well as the collection of data used to test those hypotheses. Observations from five online settings – four Usenet newsgroups and one mailing list – were selected for their expected sociological diversity. Characteristics of the participants and their interactions were gleaned from participation observation, as well as through interviews with 115 participants in 397 cases of conflict, through the administration of forty-two systematically varying instruments. This data was combined with measures from a purposive content analysis of five thousand messages, the culmination of fieldwork conducted over a period of nearly eight years. The findings reflect the sociological similarity of cyberspace to off-line social life. The conventional explanation of online morality – “netiquette”, a system of online norms – does not explain the occurrence, form, or structure of conflict online. Patterns of avoidance, confrontation, and partisanship are associated, above all, with the extent to which participants have interacted with, and become known to, each other. More specifically, those who are integrated and intimate with others avoid rebuke, while those who are strangers or known deviants attract the greatest ire. Off-line status is related to grievance expressions, but not to deviance itself.