Online communities are platforms where like-minded can converse with each other and share things. We are undoubtedly all part of one or more of these platforms, take for example Facebook, YouTube or even this blog you are reading right now! Usually online communities form around a certain hobby or fanpage where you can find fellow fans and get in contact with each other. One of these platforms was formed in 1998 among fans of the then running tv show The X-Files, named the X-Filesaholics. This platform shows that sometimes, boundaries between real life and the virtual world can become extremely vague, and that people online can participate in situations that even in real life are not considered pleasant.
More precisely, I am talking about the concept of hazing: something that is still very alive in student fraternities in the Netherlands. Hazing a practice meant to show the freshmen, or newbies, that there is a set hierarchy within the fraternity and that they should obey those with more power. This includes doing chores, public embarassment and often verbal abuse. Not very fun now is it?
So how does an online platform for X-Files fans relate to this? An extended study (Honeycutt, 2006) of the community shows how the users of this site are using hazing techniques to maintain boundaries and excert power onto newcomers of the platform to maintain the inequality inherent between dominant and subordinate groups.On the message board, also referred to as “Mulders Apartment”, many things are discussed unrelated to the X-Files whatsoever. Newcomers are expected to go through an intitiation ritual, part of which is the so called “toothbrush/ice block welcoming ritual”. According to this ritual newcomers are assigned a room inside the apartment that they then need to scrub using only a toothbrush.
So the question that comes to mind is: How does one scrub an online room with a toothbrush? Or better yet: Why would you do that? Same goes for hazing in real life, I often ask myself why people would let themselves go through the humiliation of hazing just to be part of a group.
Truth is that online hazing is always better than the real deal, considering that you are not actually scrubbing a floor with a toothbrush, but your online version is “supposedly” doing so. But this fact also makes the whole ritual seem even more pointless doesn’t it?
Honeycutt ( 2006) argues that the reason to engage in hazing on an online community is to protect the culture and norms established, whilst protecting their own power. Hazing is considered necessary to enforce the culture onto newcomers. And actually, this is quite similar to hazing in the real world. But that doesn’t make it any better…
To get to know more about this site, take a look here: http://xholics.tripod.com/Faq.htm.
Patrick J. Bateman, Peter H. Gray, Brian S. Butler, (2011) Research Note—The Impact of Community Commitment on Participation in Online Communities. Information Systems Research 22(4):841-854. http://dx.doi.org/10.1287/isre.1090.0265
Honeycutt, C. (2006), Hazing as a Process of Boundary Maintenance in an Online Community, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication,