Abstract - The Information Society 12(1)

Defending the boundaries: Identifying and countering threats in a Usenet newsgroup

David J. Phillips

An account of a Usenet newsgroup whose participants, in response to a perceived invasion of barbarians, explored and articulated the value of the group, the nature of the crisis facing it, and the strategies available to meet the crisis is presented. The newsgroup facilitated political and personal support for some gay, lesbian, or bisexual men and women. The primary threat to the group was the increasing number of newcomers who were oblivious to established norms, who tended to view access to the group as a commodity, and who attempted to impose outside paradigms on the operations of the group. Defensive strategies involved calling on rhetorical devices or structural resources. All strategies had the potential to backfire, but rhetorical strategies were less risky, more available, and more community affirming than strategies requiring access to structural resources. Through this account, the mutual linkages and dependencies between the social and technical organization of computer-mediated communication networks, the community-building activities taking place through those networks, and the social, legal, economic structures in which those networks are embedded are addressed.

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