Message Received: Virtual Ethnography in Online Message Boards

Kevin F. Steinmetz


As the internet begins to encapsulate more people within online communities, it is important the social researcher have well-rounded ethnographic methodologies for observing these phenomena. This article seeks to contribute to the methodology by detailing and providing insights into three specific facets of virtual ethnography that need attention: space and time, identity and authenticity, and ethics. Because of the postmodern context that the internet is operating in/contributing to (space and time collapse, identity becomes more playful, ethics become more tenuous), understanding these aspects is crucial to the study online social groups. A second focus of this article is to apply these notions to the study of online message boards—a frequently used medium for online communication and a frequently overlooked one by methodologists.

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