Online Conversational Spaces: The Vocal and the Previously Silenced

Samir Chopra

Comments on Internet discussion forums have been the subject of much analysis ever since electronic conversational spaces first made their appearance back in the 1970s. Pioneering scholars of ‘computerized conferencing systems’ like Murray Turoff and Starr Roxanne Hiltz–who conducted most of their empirical studies on the Electronic Information Exchange System–noted that several features of these systems made possible not just the rich and vigorous discussion that was their hallmark, but also much of the hostile, aggressive and abusive behavior that was its distressing counterpart.

The ‘anonymity that these systems provided was crucial. The ‘anonymity’ was not just the kind that was engendered by the provision of the ‘Anonymous’ handle for writing online. Rather, the ‘anonymity’ of a computerized conferencing also included the variant created by the simple distancing between two identifiable users; a named participant from Macon, Georgia, is for all practical purposes, anonymous to me. This ‘speaking…

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