Responsibility (Or Lack Thereof)

Many have pointed to the ability to mask or change identity on-line as a positive feature that lends itself to the creation of an egalitarian space on-line. As Judy Anderson puts it:  "Usenet, while it can be nasty . . . uncaring and unsympathetic, is a truly nondiscriminatory society. It judges you only though your postings, not by what you look like, your marital status, whether you have a disability, or any of the other things that are traditionally used for discrimination" (138) . But the obscurity of virtual reality does not eliminate discrimination. Lori Kendall says

Choosing a gender-neutral or male character may free a female participant from fears of direct harassment or overeager sexual interest, but regardless of the gender of her character, a female participant observing [discriminatory and insulting] types of conversation is continually reminded of the male-dominated environment in which she moves. Furthermore, choosing one gender or another does nothing to change the expectations attached to particular gender identities (216-17) . Masking one's identity can in fact lead to significant problems on-line. In a discussion of MOOs and MUDs, Shannon McRae points out that "for some participants, never seeing the face of whoever they're dealing with in VR somehow translates to not having to be responsible for their actions . An example of this phenomena can be seen in this MOO transcript, sent to me by a female graduate student who took her first-year composition students to the MOO. In this example, we see the instructor struggling to gain control of the virtual classroom. Finally that control is usurped by a threat made by a student the teacher could not identify.

When asked what advice this instructor would give to other female teachers interested in MOOing with students she says:

I would suggest that she require the students to introduce themselves at the beginning of a session. After this session, my view of Anonymity has completely changed. Students should not be allowed to have total anonymity. People have got to realize that there are consequences to what they say online. Don't get me wrong, but I think it's time that people start thinking about technology before they start saying 'Oh this is the best thing since sliced bread in the Composition Class.' There is little to nothing published about the bad incidents using computers in the classroom. The ability to cloak one's identify may lead to greater participation one the part of some students, but we must realize that this ability may also provide fertile ground for student aggression.


Masculine Space | Real and Perceived Differences in Computer Expertise |

Responsibility--Or Lack Thereof | Invisibility: It's ONLY Email | Back to Problems with Virtual Space