Wikipedia’s entry for ‘Virtual community’ (“Virtual Community”, 2011) embodies both the advantages and disadvantages of online communities. Itself an article created by a (virtual) community mirroring its own subject, it shows how such communities operating through computer mediated communication can be a positive and a negative construct.The article treats virtual communities primarily as separate from offline communities, as evidenced in the very title, though this is increasingly seen as a misinterpretation of what is actually a change, and an extension, to the concept of communities. Wellman (1998) observes that communities exist everywhere – the important question is how they function within a sociological context (and are there any differences in them?). He also later noted (Wellman, 2001) that virtual communities erase location since they are everywhere, while yet another defining characteristic is their speed of operation. Pearson (2009) uses the metaphor of a glass bedroom to describe the performance of constructing identity in a space not private, not public, but a new mixture of both. These shifting senses of (non)location are not reflected in the Wikipedia entry.
Privacy in the world of social networking has become a contentious concept, with the more sensationalist tabloid media such as commercial current affairs programs and talkback radio claiming there is no privacy online. This paper looks at the shifting boundaries of privacy in the virtual environment and its relation to earlier concepts of privacy. Furthermore, the way online networks facilitate data mining by corporate marketers is discussed. Rather than erasing privacy, social networking users are redefining privacy from within through a mutual process to meet their own needs, while what should actually cause concern is the way this new wealth of information can be challenged by corporate interests from outside this consensual process. Continue reading