Ethics and Information Technology

, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 41–56 | Cite as

Pernicious virtual communities: Identity, polarisation and the Web 2.0

  • Mitch ParsellEmail author


The importance of online social spaces is growing. New Web 2.0 resources allow the creation of social networks by any netizen with minimal technical skills. These communities can be extremely narrowly focussed. In this paper, I identify two potential costs of membership in narrowly focussed virtual communities. First, that narrowly focussed communities can polarise attitudes and prejudices leading to increased social cleavage and division. Second, that they can lead sick individuals to revel in their illness, deliberately indulging in their disease and denying the edicts of the medical profession. I specifically examine illness communities centred on the now defunct Multiple Personality Disorder. I highlight these potential problems and point to some technologies that may help combat them.


community identity mental illness openness polarisation social networking Web 2.0 


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Special thanks to Townley for continued discussions in the area of ethics and ICT, Deranty for emphasizing the importance of identity, members of my virtual philosophy community for promoting open dialogue, and two anonymous referees for incredibly helpful and detailed comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia

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