Saturday, August 26, 2006


There has been a lot of talk lately about "online communities," "virtual communities," or other types of communities whose members interact via the Internet. Much of this discussion struggles with the definition of what an online "community" could be when no sharp boundaries exist in the networked organizational structures that characterize the Internet, which connect many parties via many nodes.

Last week the New York Times ran an article on a different kind of virtual community, "On the Web, Pedophiles Extend Their Reach." Of course, when we use the word "community," we often give it a positive cultural value that the term may not always deserve. The article points out that those sexually obsessed with children, despite their often lively online debates, rarely get real feedback from opposing views that defend the rights of minors against those who would exploit and objectify them. Like other forms of political organization on the web, pedophiles only link to like-minded others and thus reinforce the dominant paradigm that members accept. To the Times' credit, unlike many of their other media+children scare pieces, the article makes clear that it is live, face-to-face contact with familiar adults that presents the chief danger of sexual abuse to children.

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