Internet Communities Article

If there is one thing that unites humanity, it’s our sense of community. Our ability to come together has allowed us to come this far in the universe. Sharing ideas and grouping together for support come naturally. It’s survival instinct, but what happens when this same instinct meets modern technology, namely the Internet.

The Internet is ubiquitous, whether in the home or on our phones. It connects us like on a new level, creating the global community. But within this massive sphere of information, there are pockets of individualism, and room for niche communities. We can connect to these places at will, bypassing space and forming whole new networks.

You may think you know the Internet, but there is far more there than you are aware. It’s like a gigantic, secret underground military base. There’s the plain admin building on top, of which Google and Wikipedia are a part. Then a few levels down we have places like Reddit and 4chan. Deeper still you pass rooms that hide tiny pockets of people discussing their own plans and hopes. Right at the bottom, where the really secret stuff lies, is the Deep Web. Almost off the radar, Deep Web is the (mostly) unlawful frontier. Each level has its own communities, and everyone is part of a different one, whether on the surface, or in the darkest recesses of the Web.

My own e-life begins with MSN Messenger, a program many other people my age are aware of. A friend introduced me, and soon I was constantly interrupting the phone line to dial into the Internet. I met a few strangers through mutual friends, and later even began a relationship this way. But MSN was merely a stepping stone.

Chat rooms were big through MSN, and sometimes my brother and I would idly chat on some random board, awaiting an invite for cybersex. That provided endless giggles. But this limited discussion soon bored me, and as I meandered across various Flash and comic sites, I discovered forums.

Forums are places of great discussion, often among entirely anonymous people. You choose an inventive handle (essentially a nickname), pick a suitably noticeable avatar (picture that appears beside your handle), and get stuck into posting. There is a forum for everyone, whether you are a pregnant mother, gym junkie, or aspiring writer. My first forum was a place of great notoriety. It was the home of myg0t, Internet pranksters and hackers who took enjoyment in destroying the fun of others.

I do not remember how I discovered http://www.myg0t.com, but discover it I did. At first I ‘lurked’ (a term that means to browse a forum, but not register as a user), but was lulled into the tough guy attitude of the so-called myg0ts. These were the leaders of the group, the ones who digitally attacked innocents in video games. It must have been my youth, but the exclusivity and hardcore nature of the forum enticed me.

My first handle is one that still makes me cringe. OzFactor_XxX. Just read that and savour the immaturity. Soon I was linking funny videos (this was before Youtube), and trying to blend in. Without success, I might add. A number of forum goers soon targeted me as easy picking, constantly starting flame wars and harassing me. I pushed through, and I like to think this early bullying toughened me for what the rest of the web had to offer.

At some point I became banned from the forum, but not before many, many experiences were had. There I saw some of the worst images one can find on the Internet, the least of which includes Goatse. I’ve seen a man snort Oxycodin on webcam. I met and befriended probably the greatest troll I have yet to witness, a man of such eloquence and passion that even the myg0t leaders marveled.

I watched what was a declining community fracture and breakdown further, its leader suffering a mutiny, and its focus becoming lost. I also emerged with a new handle, one I’ve kept since. Homemaster. There’s a whole other story behind that one.

Despite anonymity, anyone can be someone on the Internet. You may be the sage of a forum, or an infamous pot stirrer. Your handle can become respected or feared, depending on how you act. And more often than not, that online persona is a vastly different reflection to the one in the real world.

After myg0t there was a gap in my web-life. I didn’t go on the PC as much, and had a gap year. About a year after returning though, a whole new chapter opened up.

As I waited in an airport, I picked up a magazine. It was a video game magazine, and like any young male that sort of thing interests me. After reading it, I saw a link for the magazine’s official forum. I found myself signing up, once again taking up the name of Homemaster.

Soon I was lost in a thriving community again, the leaders this time being the magazine contributors, a handful designated moderators, and one or two revered denizens. I remained largely invisible, making a few friends who shared similar interests in games, and generally contributing meaningless posts you see very often. I was a nobody.

But the sense of community was like nothing else. The general subforum, where anything went, was awash in topical discussion and general chitchat. Camaraderie was in the air. But then it all went so horribly wrong.

The then editor of the magazine made a perilous decision. He merged the forum with that of another site, one with its own infrastructure. The result was a mess, with users being unable to access their beloved home. Adverts aggravated the eyes, the layout was offensive, but most of all it was rarely running. And so the community left.

A majority, indeed all those who actually provided the most interesting and varied discussion, departed. One of them had begun his own forum, one strictly to be used in emergency. This place was free from company control. Everything went back to normal, and I followed.

There was a seething dislike of the former forum, and the decision that had been its undoing. When the site actually worked, those who had remained barely posted, and what they did was boring. The new forum laughed at the misfortune, knowing full well that what held a place together was the people. And they were the people.

For a while, everything was fine. Discussion ranged on all topics, from the random to films. I was still anonymous, but nonetheless enjoying this sense of belonging. Things changed with Janus.

Some people are just naturally charismatic. Some are even more so online. Janus was just such a person. Whether or not he had actually been a member of the original forum has never been found out, but somehow he quickly became a moderator and subtly began a tyrannical rule.

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