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Fractures between an online and offline community (and the ethical responses)
by Lelia Green, Leesa Costello
International Journal of Web Based Communities (IJWBC), Vol. 5, No. 3, 2009
Abstract: This paper addresses a high-stakes dispute over some six to eight months between two groups of community 'members' which led to official proceedings, social welfare investigations, psychological assessments, indications of a suicide risk and, unsurprisingly, extensive Ethics Committee involvement. The use of the word 'members' in inverted commas highlights the fact that many of the parties to the dispute resigned their membership from the community during the dispute – possibly because they were unhappy at the research team's reluctance to take sides, possibly so that they could continue the conflict beyond the purview and chastisement of administrators and researchers. Two others were removed from the group as part of the research team's duty of care because of the perceived impact of the dispute upon their health and well-being. This may have inadvertently raised the stakes. Overall, the fraught incursions of the virtual world into the real world are an important part of the research findings with respect to this experimental online community.
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