What motivates people to participate and what information should be shared?
In this blog post I will share some of the insights gained from doing a minor ethnography observation on one of the subject discussed at the Swedish forum Flashback.
Flashback is a Swedish site that went online 1995, but dates back to 1983. It has as its goal to express underground opinions and has some 798000 registered members, targeting Swedish-speaking participants. It is an open forum for many different topics. You have sections covering a vide span of topics dealing with computers and technical things, drugs, vehicles and family, culture and media, life style, food and drinks, politics, travel, society, sex, sport, science and other.
Choice and Ethics
The scope of this study is limited to one particular forum, the one dealing with society and crimes, and to further narrow it down, one particular discussion. The choice of Flashback is made as a convenient selection . I did not participate in any discussion and I have no previous knowledge of this community. Information is presented so that it cannot be traced back to any specific person taking part in the forum.
M is gone missing in July 2010 and the thread starts with a posting early august. It is to become a very long and large thread that span over three years, starting out as a missing people subject. It moves from being a missing people subject to a criminal case when she is found murdered 2012, but the discussion continues until the moderator finally shut down the tread in 2013.
Theory and findings
According to Wang and Fesenmaier (2003) one important factor is anticipated reciprocity, and that it can occur in a group as a generalizable exchange. This means in effect that the group as a hole gain from the individual sharing. One other aspect they mention is the expectations of a person to believe that she is important to the group. This affects her feeling of being an efficacious person by making regular and high quality contributions.
Angrosino (2012) talks about finding information that people disagree or agree upon and behaviour that goes against other external evidence. It is clear that much of what is said on the forum is related both the behaviour and views that are not shared by all members.
Several replies in the forum indicate that there indeed are important factors shared by members. The examples below can be taken as an indication that there is an understanding among members about the group as a hole:
– “Detectives usually come much further than this… ”
– “It’s difficult to people to add their own theories as there is a tendency by other more close to the subject to lecture…”
Members in this community seem to have an interest in giving information to solve a crime, believing that they can contribute to the solution, and to take part in a community that is there to solve a crime.
Information given is a not only as core facts but also as theories that can be thought as being of mere speculative nature. It allows members to contribute and feel important despite not knowing much about the subject.
There is also a clear understanding that information should be of high quality. It’s an ongoing struggle between members showing that this is not an easy thing to be regulated in the group. An example is a strong and sometimes inflammatory discussion about one specific piece of information (here x) that some say is manipulated:
– “…so you have x that you show without controlling them… only to smear M ….this will not go unnoticed… Nobody fools me… ”
– “…a sign if desperation, don’t fn post this that doesn’t belong to… ”
While high quality information seems to be important to the individual sharing and the group as a hole there is also an ongoing ethical debate. It is a general theme whether or not information given is important, or if it is there for some other reason. The example that stands out is the discussion that relates to sexual orientations. Thru out the whole discussion, from the start until the ending of the thread 2013, members are talking about BDSM, a sexual practice with dominance and submission:
– “ she is a member of …”
– “I can’t understand how you can write all this crap”
– “well then give is fact then”
– “Her boyfriend had drug related problems, so I’ve heard, and she liked BDSM, being dominant.“
– and in the end of the thread:
– “what have BDSM to do with the murder”
These are some examples that I think can illustrate themes such as reciprocity and high quality information that are central in this community. Members share and also correct or dislike information in an effort to regulate what is to be understood as being quality information. The long discussion on the subject of sexual preferences and the specific information being valid as proper information or not, is not something that is agreed upon by all members. It shows that members to this community are efficacious if they can ascribe a value to information that is somehow defined by the community, and this is not a frictionless process.
 Angrosino, M. (2012). “Doing ethnographic and observational research” London: Sage Publications.
 Wang, Y., Fesenmaier. R. (2003). Understanding the Motivation of Contribution in Online Communities An Empirical Investigation of an Online Travel Community. ” Electronic Markets 13.1 (2003): 33-45.