Online Community -- The Near Death Experience - Masks and Miscommunication

Document Type

Conference Proceeding




Computing, Health and Science


School of Exercise, Biomedical and Health Science




Australian Research Council

Grant Number

ARC Number : LP0453946


This article was originally published as: Bonniface, L. N., & Green, L. R. (2007). Online Community -- the near death experience - masks and miscommunication. Proceedings of IADIS International Conference: Web Based Communities 2007. (pp. 79-86). Salamanca, Spain. IADIS Press. Publishers website available here.


This paper represents a detailed case study of an inter-member dispute occurring in a moderated website operated as part of a research programme between the National Heart Foundation (WA Division) and Edith Cowan University. It raises issues of ethics and accountability, and of the genuinely intense communication that develops between some people in online community. As in real life, communication has either positive or negative implications – and misunderstandings, miscommunication and disputes can quickly escalate. In the context of a community that is also a research project, however, the matters of institutional risk, ethics clearance and legal liability complicate the issues and decisions have to be taken that are carefully noted and justified. In this example, the majority of members (only a few were involved in the dispute) saw the escalation as a potential threat to the continuation of the community and intervened to assist resolution. Although ‘slow burning’ disputes can take a long time to erupt (this case study had a three month genesis before it reached crisis point), and although it should not be assumed that resolution is achieved instantly, the community appears to be regaining its equilibrium.