Comic-Con and Social Networks

You may also like...

4 Responses

  1. Very interesting. But this isn’t a new phenomenon. People have been meeting up offline at conventions with friends they met online for a long time. You’ve rediscovered a version of the @-party. What’s your evidence that the growth in the phenomenon is linked to the decline of anonymity on online social networks, rather than to the the rise in the popularity of online social networks?

  2. Ari Waldman says:

    Good question, James. Of course, this is anecdotal at this point, but a few things makes me think this is more than just the rise of social networks and, instead, is about the decline or lack of need for anonymity. First, these groups — sci fi gamers — are one of the paradigmatic examples of Internet users whose online identity is not their physical identity. It has to be; they play as elves, clerics, warriors, etc. But, it would appear that they are not using fake identities for social interaction, only gaming. The fact that these users are not using their online personae to hide from the real world is telling. Second, the speed with which they dropped their online personae is striking. One woman finds another woman and immediately reveals who she is. That kind of willingness to identify is relatively new, perhaps a product of the Facebook world having replaced the old AOL chat room world from the late 90s. Third, there has to be a new factor other than the rise of social networks — which, as you say, is nothing new — because gamers are not the only ones whose behavior is changing. Gay Internet users, for example, are eschewing anonymity even on mobile technologies that were originally meant to be used anonymously. There may indeed be various cultural forces at play there, but if it is true that behaviors of groups who traditionally benefited (or were thought to benefit) from online anonymity are choosing to identify themselves, then it cannot just be about the rise of social networks. It may be the rise of social networks that reject anonymity specifically; but, the change in behavior suggests something diverted the original arc.

  3. This is why other social scientists hate law professors, I say only half-jokingly. You are doing essentially ethnographic work, but not in an ethnographic spirit. That is: you have interviewed, briefly, a number of attendees of a single event, about a single issue in their experience. Having identified a possible pattern, you then immediately conclude that it is caused “the decline of anonymity in online social networks.”

    I mean, whoa, whoa, whoa! You lost me at the existence of a decline, to say nothing of the causal connection. I want to know *what* online networks. I want to know in *what respects* they were anonymous. I want to know *who* used them, and how they chose which networks to use and how anonymous they’d be. I want to know what the affordances of those online networks were. And so on. Because when you say “online social networks,” I don’t even know whether you’re talking about a two-year change, a ten-year change, or a twenty-five-year change.

    Now, maybe the evidence you’re gathering can tell you something about this. Perhaps you want to say, “I talked to a hundred people at Comic-Con, and, based on their stories, social networks are less anonymous now.” It is possible to reason in that direction, yes: many good scholars do. But when they do, they’re careful about the limits of their data. They’ll explain how Comic-Con attendees, who are after all meeting up in person at a major annual convention, may not be representative of the specific communities they’re part of, let alone other online communities, let alone online social networks as a whole. They’ll ask their informants in detail how and why they chose to identify themselves, to try to learn the conventions and norms at play. They’ll look for the differences in the stories they hear, as a well as the commonalities. That is, they’ll be more precise about the limits of their data than just saying “tiny sample set … informal questions … unscientific survey.” And because they will be, they won’t immediately go on to make sweeping generalizations about ditching anonymity in favor of community.

    Look, I probably *agree* with many of your underlying points. The late-1990s emphasis in cyberlaw theory on perfect anonymity misread how many people actually use electronic media. Offline and online lives interpenetrate. Community is as much or more a basic human drive as is identity reinvention. Etc. etc. etc. But this is not the way to go about showing it. You have seemingly rediscovered something that is well known in Internet-researcher circles, but done so in a way that is too methodologically casual to tell whether you are describing something that is actually different from what is already in the literature. This is how it is with us legal scholars (and I’m as guilty of it as anyone else here): we’re like blind men with an elephant that has already been so well-studied that there are reference books in Braille describing it.

  4. Ari says:

    You make a valid point. But, with all due respect, I don’t think I passed anything off as definitive research. Nor did I say that what I found from my few interviews was conclusive. In fact, I admitted how casual the “research” was and that there may be other factors at play and how there can be no definitive conclusions. I posed a hypothesis though what I thought was a fun post of general interest and, I feel, couched it with sufficient limits.

    Perhaps you feel that I could have been more effusive in my admissions of the limitations of interviewing a few hundred people at one unique event. And, I certainly could have; I think we can all be more careful in that regard.

    Thanks for your comments!