Title: Fractures between an online and offline community (and the ethical responses)

Authors: Lelia Green, Leesa Costello

Addresses: Faculty of Education and Arts, Edith Cowan University, Mount Lawley Campus, 2 Bradford Street, Mount Lawley 6050, Western Australia, Australia. ' School of Exercise, Biomedical and Health Sciences, Edith Cowan University (Joondalup Campus), Joondalup 6027, Western Australia, Australia

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.

Keywords: community breakdown; ethics; duty of care; online disputes; online research; offline communities; online communities; virtual communities; web based communities; social welfare; psychological assessments; suicide risk; virtual world; real world.

DOI: 10.1504/IJWBC.2009.025219

International Journal of Web Based Communities, 2009 Vol.5 No.3, pp.462 - 475

Published online: 16 May 2009 *

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