The online UFO community

The term UFO, or unidentified flying object, was officially created by the United States Air Force in 1953. [1] It has always been an interesting subject, and because of its mysterious nature it gives rise to many controversial discussions and studies. The development of online communities gives users greater convenience to share their UFO experience and knowledge. This blog post attempts to provide a glimpse of one online UFO community on “what it is about, how it functions and what capability it has produced”, the three characteristics that define a community in general. [2]

Introduction to the UFO community

There are hundreds of different online UFO communities. I chose one from the top ranked sites and spent 5 days read the threads anonymously. According to the site description, it has more than 50,000 threads created by its almost 30,000 members. However the active members are relatively small, the number is less than 800, accounts only 2.7% of all members.

All are welcomed?

In this UFO community, everyone can read all the threads without the need to register as a member. However, only members of the site can post threads and comments. For the new members, it has a section called “Introduce Yourself” for them to make self-introductions to the other members. I noticed that almost all threads received replies with warmly welcome from active members (those who have more than 1,000 posts in the site). I got the idea that everyone is welcomed to join the discussions.

However, after I have spent more time reading the threads, I came to realize that maybe I was wrong. First, the threads and replies that you can find are almost all posted by the active members. You will notice the same names appear again and again in every discussions. Then, in these discussions, they use acronym so frequently that it makes it extremely difficult for new members to understand what they are discussing. Thirdly, it is not uncommon for active members to make fun of newcomers’ lack of knowledge. Also I noticed the fact that newcomers’ threads received much fewer replies, or even no replies at all. These observations suggest that the community is not for everyone.

Do we need dissent here?

The most frequent topics in the community concern personal experiences of UFO sightings, abduction by aliens, and the technology setups that could deal with UFO issues. In the threads I studied, I found a mix of questions, scepticism, suggestions and support. However, only supportive replies were welcomed, while disagree opinions were always rudely challenged by the thread author.

Here are some typical conversations I found in the site.

Supportive:

“Very interesting video. Amazing what things COULD be happening out there in space. “

“Links, links links galore!! Awesome info guys. Cool! “ 

Attitudes toward dissent:

“men do you really think before writing?!!!, that phrase is completely meaningless, your technical common sense is “loss in space”, It looks like your full time job is to write meaningless postings, amazing. “

“Do you realize that sometime people write random words in a keyboard, words that do not have any meaning, you are a perfect example of that. “

“A civilian airplane that is intermittent?!!!! You sure have great imagination!!! “

“Common sense again!“

“What a load of balls.”

Such angry replies usually come when the member’s claim were seriously challenged. When the scepticism is milder, the responses bring forth references and examples to defend themselves, in the hope of winning more support for their claims. While a mild level of scepticism is accepted, the core community actively discourages serious dissent.

Conclusion

My overall impression is that this online UFO community is dominated by a small group of extremely active members, whom I would like to call faithful UFO believers. They share personal experience and fantasy about UFO, seek confirmation from each other, in order to maintain and enhance their belief on UFO related issues.

  1. UFO, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unidentified_flying_object

2. Wenger, E. (1999). Learning as a social system. Systems thinker, June.

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