As the semester draws to a close, it is time for me to take note of the findings I discovered while tracking the different sites. First, an overview of the general set up of each community:
Two of the sites I looked at (autostraddle.com and xojane.com) are sites that are primarily centered on the articles written by professional writers. The community makes itself most known in the commenting section on each article, which the authors and editors of the site also participate in to varying degrees (with autostraddle having the more involved staff). The sites may also have “open threads” (xojane recently began hosting a weekly open thread) in which the “article” is just a picture or brief message, and the intent is for the commenters to use the commenting space under the “article” for whatever purposes they want (often idle chat about their lives, asking for advice, sharing positive events, etc).
christianforums.com is just a forum – there are no articles for the community to be “centered” on. Instead, there are several topics in which a give user can go to find or create their own threads about a specific subject, question, or concern that they have. The forum is managed by a group of moderators, who have the power to edit, move, or delete threads, and ban members who may be stepping out of line. All the users must agree to the terms of the forums.
Finally, waitingtillmarriage.org combines elements of both set-ups. They do post articles (albeit infrequently) about their chosen topics, and these articles have active commenting sections; it isn’t unusual to see an article that is still receiving comments after many years. However, the forum section of the site is the more active section of the site, with new threads and posts being created each day.
In my observance of the four communities, I was able to notice a variety of similarities across the board, despite the fact that I was looking at people who differed widely in terms of ideological beliefs, and in general community set up.
The first commonality I noticed was a strong feeling of defensiveness for the community. Commenters are eager to drive away people who they may perceive as being a threat to the community, often termed “trolls” – on xoJane, these people were often “MRAs,” or “Men’s Rights Activists”: men who feel oppressed or victimized by feminists. On Autostraddle, much of their problems come from “bi-bashers” and transphobic people – people who post aggressive comments that imply bisexual people don’t belong in the LGBT community, and people who don’t feel that trans women are real women, respectively. Autostraddle eventually instituted a commenting policy in which they have a zero tolerance policy for any disparaging comments related to bi and trans people as a result of their feelings of protectiveness towards the bi and trans members of their community. On waitingtillmarriage.org, people are on the look out for those who belief their choices are backwards or repressed, or people who might be looking to exploit the community – recently, a few people who were casting for a documentary about people who are waiting until marriage were chased off of the forums due to members’ suspicions of their true motives in making the documentary. Waitingtillmarriage.org also makes it clear that their site just isn’t for virgins, but for all “waiters” (their chosen term) in general. Comments that make disparaging remarks towards those who might have had sex previously, but who have ultimately decided to recommit to waiting, are not permitted. Christianforums is a bit of an outlier – their atmosphere welcomes, and even facilitates, intense debates, so there is a significant subset of atheists on their forum. However, their rules are very much from the perspective of conservative Christians – for example, “promoting homosexuality” is banned on the forum.
Another commonality I noticed was the willingness of the different community members to call out the perceived mismanagement of the community. The most obvious example would be on the previously-mentioned xodus, but on autostraddle, as well, people are willing to call out perceived mistakes or oversights on the part of the editorial staff.
Finally, I noticed a genuine sense of affection and attachment to the community. Community members frequently express a verbal appreciation for the community, and for the people they come to befriend there. Many people become “regulars,” commenting every day or nearly every day, and divulge increasingly personal information to fellow community members, despite the fact that all of this information is visible to anyone who chooses to visit the site. People develop genuine friendships, and may even meet up offline. It seems that there is a sense of closeness and privacy, despite the very public nature of these communities.