VIRTUAL COMMUNITIES: DENOTATION OF SIGNIFICANCE IN THE ONLINE SPACE
Keywords:new media, internet, interaction, virtual communities
Technological development of media caused a change in the perception of the traditional understanding of the community and, in general, in the ways of interaction among people. With the elimination of spatial and temporal barriers, the new media (primarily the Internet) have become places that bring together individuals from all over the world, offering them, until recently, unthinkable connectivity options and creating a sense of belonging. The complexity of the communication relationships in contemporary mediatized world is further complicated when we take into account the interactions realized among the members of different virtual communities. Despite the criticism and resistance of some authors that the term “community” be preserved from the modern transformation, the theory must go in line with the dynamic development of society and revise concepts once they no longer correspond to the current status and do not reflect the reality of social practices. As much as the immense cyberspace eludes definition, the fact is that while “traveling” cyber highways, internet users also interact, get to know each other, build connections, and for them, the sense of belonging to a cyber group is realistic, even though it is defined in terms of the space that we call virtual. The question of the strength of connections made in the virtual space and the comparison with social connections in real life, as well as the questions concerning the influence of online activities to offline (in)activity are a subject of many research endeavors, aimed at demystifying the part of human life which moves from the real world into the virtual world. The answers are sometimes extreme, from utopian to completely dystopian. However, the aim of this paper is not to analyze online worlds in terms of control and restrictions, which have become unquestionable based on day-to-day situations and experience; the aim of this paper will be to analyze the importance of forming virtual communities, mainly from the perspective of the members of those communities, and the possibilities of their interaction, which may also be positive or negative. Online communities are in constant interaction, which may be harmless just like those communities, but it can also have serious consequences which are initiated by offline events or which are moved from online to offline space. The ambivalence of such interaction is shown in this paper through the analysis of contemporary examples of communication among virtual communities: regional Facebook groups, Anonymous and ISIS, as well as the users of social network Facebook. Virtual conflicts may not be an entirely new phenomenon, but endless possibilities for the formation and operation of virtual communities more than ever influence the social practices in the offline world.
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