Blog#7: New Identities

The beginning of "A Rape in Cyberspace; or, How an Evil Clown, a Haitian Trickster Spirit, Two Wizards, and a Cast of Dozens Turned a Database into a Society" by Julian Dibbell drew my attention to this article. In the article, he used words such as voodoo doll, have sex, and ghostly sexual violence that make me imagine what the story of this article is. The fact that this article was written in 1993 is fascinating to me. Cyberrape is not new and it's still a problem in cyberspace. Dibbell wrote this article from his experience when he was in LambdaMOO, a subtype of MUD, as Dr. Bombay. In cyberspace, you can become whoever you want and it is difficult to control what is going on in the virtual world. This article points out the problem with a cyber-rapist by using sexual harassment, insults, abuses, and intrusiveness. Although Mr. Bungle didn't use physical attack on other people, he used only the keyboard to type sexual harassment words via the Internet by using a database in the LambdaMOO program, this manner is not acceptable in cyberspace. This event caused programmers of LambdaMOO to add more features and commands to protect from this kind of event. Cyberlaw is very important and we should consider how to take care of this problem in cyberspace to prevent crimes in the cyberworld. We may penalize the cybername (i.e. avatar) but we cannot do anything to the real person who holds that cyber identity. It is very important to have specific laws to control people in cyberspace to make them behave well and respect each other. If the real world has laws to regulate people, I believe that we should have cyberlaws for the cyber community, so we can live together happily ever after.

After I finished reading "Women & Children First: Gender and the Settling of the Electronic Frontier" by Laura Miller, I understood why Prof. wanted us to read this article because it relates to Dibbell's article. Miller disagrees with Dibbell that we can commit rape in cyberspace. She said because it doesn't have any physical attack, it is impossible to commit a crime. In the cyberworld people can conceal their real identities. One of my friends when he online in second life, he pretends to be a girl with a cute name and tries to make friend with other women. I believe that women trust the same sex more than they trust men. However, this issue is vital. If bad people misbehave and do bad things with other people in cyberspace, how can we control this? In the news a couple of months ago, a girl killed herself because her friend's mother pretended to be a boy and assaulted her in cyberspace. This real story relates to "We're Teen, We're Queer, and We've Got E-mail" by Steve Silberman. Kali, a teenage lesbian girl almost committed suicide if she didn't get the phone call from a cyber friend from the online community in which she participated. Kali was lucky that her online friend saved her life. Silberman's article demonstrates the benefits of the online community for gay and lesbian society, especially teenagers. They don't have to wait until they grow up enough to get involved in gay society. They can exploit the advantages of the Internet to feel safe in revealing their identities and find people who are similar to themselves. As Tom Reilly said, "[T]his is the most powerful tool queer youth have ever had." (p. 223). However, if the Internet is open to everyone, this queer room is also open to anyone. The end of Silberman's article illustrates some problems with this online tool, for example banning of gay chat rooms in AOL, concerns from parents, and threats from online predators. The Internet has both advantages and disadvantages. It depends on how we use it. An example is The Cool Page For Queer Teens at This Web site also has a note to parents and useful resources for gay teens.

"Race In/For Cyberspace: Identity Tourism and Racial Passing on the Internet" by Lisa Nakamura is just the title or prologue for the works of this author. Next week we will read her whole book. In this article, Nakamura coined the term identity tourism which means a person can get pleasure and gain experiences from being another gender or race on the Internet that is different from his/her real identity. As I mentioned above, people can disguise their digital identity. In the real world you can't change your identity that much, but people can create their new identity in cyberspace -- to be another gender, look, or race, whoever they are not in the real world.

"Who Am We?" by Sherry Turkle provides several scenarios of digital identity problems that earlier articles also discuss such as virtual sex. The sex life in cyberspace of Tim reminds me of the example that Prof. Fitzpatrick showed on the screen couple of weeks ago. Affairs in the Internet may become real problems in real life although Tim's affair may be with an 80-year-old man. This sounds ridiculous but it can happen in cyberspace. I do like the name of the article. It seems like we have more than one identity. I am or we am, which one is correct? When we are in cyberworld, are we still ourselves or do we become another person?

"Virtual Skin: Articulating Race in Cyberspace" by Cameron Bailey is very informative. His article focuses on racial and cultural markers. He discusses several types of online applications relating to the cyberworld identity. He provides many good examples on page 342 showing the relationships between the type of Internet applications and race as well as culture. Different groups may choose to use different applications to participate in cyberspace.

In conclusion, this week we focus on digital identity which plays an important role in the cyberworld. These articles point out several issues that we should consider including gender, age, race, and culture.