« August 2006 | Main | October 2006 »

September 2, 2006

Flaming in computer-mediated communication

Lea, Martin, et al. (1992). “Flaming� in computer-mediated communication: observations, explanations, implications. In Contexts of Computer-mediated Communication. NewYork Harvester Wheatsheaf. pp.89-112.

The authors argue that flaming, “the hostile expression of strong emotions and feelings� (p. 89), is not as widely prevalent or inevitable in CMC as had been reported. Instead of CMC promoting such behavior, the authors state that “flaming is in fact both radically context-dependent and relatively uncommon� (ibid.). With anecdotal accounts and a survey of research literature, they present a theoretical perspective of flaming as normative, social behavior. Previous studies explained flaming as a result of the reduced availability of social cues (Kiesler et al, 1984) and the social influence of computing’s subculture (Kiesler et al, 1984; Dubrovsky et al, 1986). However, when re-examining various studies, the authors cite several potentially confounding factors: a lack of a standard definition of flaming and greater time constraints in CMC vs. FTF groups in task-completion experiments (leading to increased stress in CMC groups, perhaps contributing to greater instances of flaming) (Kiesler et al, 1985, Siegel et al, 1986, Spears et al, 1990). In addition, observed or remembered instances of flaming appear to be overcompensated, contributing to a sense of greater occurrences.

In addition, the authors argue that CMC is not devoid of social cues and group norms (Spitzer, 1986; Walther, 1992; Lea and Spears, 1993), and that communicators are aware of their audience. Instead, the authors propose a social influence theory of flaming: flaming tends to occur “within a social context that is pre-defined or communicated via the medium� (p. 109).

Some concepts and axioms about communication

Kaufer, David & Carley, Kathleen. (1994). Some concepts and axioms about communication. Written Communication, 2(1), 8-42.

This study examines “distance� in communication, a concept the authors assert had been neglected or addressed in a scattered fashion across disciplines. By “synthesizing� across disciplines and literatures (postmodernism, social theory, network theory), the authors formulate a set of “concepts and axioms� applicable to the general communication context (both proximate and distant, oral and written). Applying these baseline concepts of relative similarity, signature, reach, and currency, the authors develop characteristics of distance that circumscribe written communication, which allows for its survival across time, space, and sociocultural environments. These are:
• Asynchronicity
• Durability
• Multiplicity
Through these characteristics, communication is achievable at a distance within complex social systems. We see these principles later expanded and fleshed out by Gurak (2001) to include speed, reach, anonymity, and interactivity.

Gender and Democracy in Computer-Mediated Communication

Herring, Susan C. (1993). Gender and democracy in computer-mediated communication. Electronic Journal of Communication 3(2): available at http://ella.slis.indiana.edu/~herring/ejc.txt

In this study, Herring examines the democratizing claim of computer-based communication, focusing on gender, in the context of academic listservs. Drawing on Habermas’ “rules of reason� (1983), Herring breaks down four characteristics claimed to foster democracy in CMC:
• Accessibility
• Social decontextualization
• (lack of) conventions of use
• (lack of) censorship
Herring’s research question is: how democratic is CMC in practice; specifically, does it produce gender equality in communication? Using mixed methods of ethnography, discourse analysis, and survey in analyzing two academic listservs over one year, Herring finds significant differences in:
• Amount
• Topic, and
• Manner of participation
That is, men participate more than women; men’s comments are responded to more frequently than women’s; men contribute more on theoretical topics while women contribute more on topics of real-world consequences; and that there are sex-based features of language where women tend to avoid confrontation and men engage in adversarial rhetoric—all of which point to a greater lack of democracy in CMC than previously thought. Herring concludes: “male and female academic professionals do not participate equally in academic CMC.�

This study is striking in its findings, particularly in light of the era in which it was conducted. Optimism in the medium was high. CMC was touted as a truly democratizing form of communication. Herring’s study was one of the first to test these early optimistic assumptions and studies (Kiesler et al, 1984; Graddol & Swann, 1989). In truly democratic discourse, according to Habermas, there can be no censorship: yet, Herring found internal and external instances of censorship in academic CMC. Of course, once again, we find claims made based on academia, a shortcoming for generalizability in this, and many other studies.

The Medical Journal Meets the Internet

Curran, Charles. (2002). The medical journal meets the internet. First Monday. http://www.firstmonday.org/issue7_6/curran/index.html

This article examines the ways in which the internet has the potential to change the field of medical publishing. The internet offers major time and cost savings, as well as media enhancements such as video clips and hyperlinks; however, these changes are not without concerns. Curran outlines the advantages as: streamlining the various steps of manuscript review through electronic communication, as opposed to conventional mail, and cost reduction of production and distribution of journals, in addition to providing reduced journal storage volume in libraries and increasing breadth of access to new information (through e-searches). Convenience is another advantage of e-journals: convenience of being able to search articles electronically, rapid access, and downloading of articles. One disadvantage is the need of internet infrastructure, which may be not as readily available in developing countries. In addition, although savings of cost and time are important, the author argues that the tenants of rigorous peer review must be maintained to ensure scientific scrutiny of clinical studies. Time is still needed for peers to review the validity of claims made in clinical study reports prior to publication. Finally, the internet could also help balance “publication bias,� where results not found to be statistically significant are not published. Curran argues that the internet will allow for greater publication of negative or statistically insignificant findings, important information in meta-analyses and to prevent unnecessary duplication of clinical studies, as the internet is less hampered by traditional publishing costs.

Curran’s examination of the internet’s influence on medical publishing highlights three key areas identified by Gurak (2001): speed (in the reduced time in brining first submission of a report to its publication as well as reducing the time of bringing medical advances to the practicing physician), reach (bringing greater and easier access to consumers as well as those in the medical field), and interactivity (the ability to conduct electronic searches and the potential of including multi-media enhancements to journal articles). This study remains relevant today, with the NIH, the major funder of medical research, mandating more rapid communication of research findings to the medical community and to the public.

The Healing Web

Bresnahan, Mary Jiang & Murray-Johnson, Lisa. (2002). The healing web. Health Care for Women International, 23, 298-407.

This study focuses on CMC of social support in an electronic health discussion group centered on menopause. Using Goldsmith and Albrecht (1993)’s social support as the theoretical background, the authors define social support as “the sense of well-being and comfort that women derive from participation in a discourse community devoted to health issues as well as the specific interactive exchanges with other participants that are used to conduct social support� (400). According to most social support models, effective support must be based on face-to-face interaction. The authors set out to test this. They examine data from a listserv, asynchronous women’s health discussion group comprising several hundred participants; using content analysis, two thousand messages were coded for thematic content categories. Three “content areas� emerged:
• communication problems with physicians;
• problems experienced with hormone replacement; and,
• discussion of alternative treatments.
In addition, messages were examined for evidence of support and it was concluded that messages met basic criteria for supportive interactions (personal perception of support, existence of a social network, and a stressful event that prompts people to seek support). They conclude that CMC “is available for women who desire to regain control over their midlife change� (406).

This study is among a range of studies that examine the effect of the internet’s perceived lack of social cues (Lea, 1992; Rice, 1987; Walther, 1992). The study also examines the internet’s potential in reaching previously unattainable populations (Gurak, 2001; Licklider, 1968; Wright, 2005, Van Gelder, 1990) and/or addressing difficult topics (Van Gelder, 1990; Pew, 2001). The authors conclude that the internet as a medium opens up communication in an area that was mainly treated with silence. Despite the internet’s lack of social cues, as compared with FTF communication, members of this group perceived social support and a sense of community. Some of the relationships even extended to FTF. One limitation of this study is generalizability; how might these findings be translating to other settings and topics?