The term “virtual ethnography” relates to the study of humans and technology and how they relate to one another. I believe that the best example of this type of ethnography lies in Denise Carter’s article, “Living In Virtual Communities: An Ethnography of Human Relationships In Cyberspace.”
For her article, Carter spent three years researching Cybercity. She states that she would visit the online community at least once a day, conducting ethnography on the different types of people and characters in this online world. Carter went above and beyond in her research however, as she included different types of ethnography including questionnaires and offline interviews. Carter’s main reason for doing this type of research was to distinguish people’s authenticity and truthfulness in real and online worlds. ”It is also useful to remember that verifying truth is just as necessary in real life as well as cybercommunities,” (Carter, 151).
When it comes to determining truthfulness and authenticity in a person, I believe it is much more difficult to do so in an online community. There are thousands of examples where an individual was not truthful about their identity online. The lengths that Carter had to go through just to feel that she could trust members of her online community are much greater than what she would have to do in a face to face interaction with someone. Having said that, determining authenticity and truthfulness in any situation is extremely difficult. In an online setting, an individual can lie about anything. It is much easier to get away with a lie in an online community than it is in a face to face interaction. ”…New ways of producing or hiding identity are evolving in cyberspace,” (Carter, 151).
I am of the belief that judging truthfulness in online communities is one of the hardest things to do. Take second life as an example of this. You could meet someone’s online character in a certain world. They could tell you about themselves, what they are like, what they like, etc. How do you know that, that person is really who they say they are? You can not make any judgements based on how they look, like you would in a face to face interaction. Their avatar may represent what they look like and what they enjoy, or it could be completely irrelevant. I disagree with Carter when she quotes Hine saying, “there is no point in establishing whether what someone says is the truth because authenticity should be seen as absolute,” (Carter, 151). I believe that authenticity should be absolute. Whether it is a virtual world or the real world, if you do not trust what someone is saying, than interacting with that person will be extremely difficult.