In what sense(s) are virtual communities real communities?
A virtual community is a network of people who interact through various forms of media, and allow users to obtain support, advice, friendship and sometimes merely just interaction with others. In a world where the internet is becoming ever more important, and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are now a part of many people's every day lives, there is a strong sense that online, virtual communities are becoming ever more important, perhaps more so than real-life communities. This rise in the virtual communities has led to an intense debate – somewhat ironically, on the internet – as to whether these communities are, or even can be, real. The debates are amongst a wide variety of people, from sociologists and scholars to ordinary people, many of whom are involved in these virtual communities themselves, and there is a huge divide in the opinions shown. Perhaps the strongest of these arguments is that real communities have real people, yet virtual communities do not have virtual people. On this basis, in this essay I will argue that virtual communities are real communities because they involve real people, yet I will also explore the other debates, such as virtual communities lack the human communication required to form a true sense of community.
Virtual communities have emerged in many different forms on the internet from the variety of categories of websites now available. Amongst the most popular are social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, dating websites and online gaming communities, where chat rooms and online 'friends' can be accessed at the click of a button. Many people now feel more inclined to confide in these online friends – many of whom they have never had more than an online conversation with – than their own friends and family, which evokes many questions as to the mindset virtual communities create amongst their participants. Rheingold, in his book...
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