Digital Media & Culture: Collaborative Essay Collection 2018/Collective Intelligence/Research Question 2:Fairman Fairplay

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In what ways do online media and communities influence collective and individual actions and/or behaviors? Draw from relevant examples and scholarship to discuss.[edit]


Since the launch of the world wide web in 1990, the Internet and social media have become increasingly present in the daily lives of billions around the world, and the ways in which people can connect have become plentiful. Through online message boards, social media platforms, and various other chat rooms and connection points, people around the globe can share information at an unprecedented rate and level. Due to this phenomenon, scholar Henry Jenkins coined a new term, collective intelligence, referring to the process of a large collective of people contributing their individual knowledge to subsequently increase the knowledge of the whole, larger, group.

However, the exponential increase of online media and communities has had an unforeseen impact on the actions of individuals and groups in real life. The emergence of online communities and social media have had both positive and negative impacts on the ways in which both individuals and groups behave. This is in part due to collective intelligence, as the increase in available knowledge and platforms on which to share and combine knowledge has led to more people relying on these online communities to educate themselves and clarify decision making.

Throughout this Wiki page, these topics will be explored in depth utilizing both peer reviewed academic papers and current examples, in order to answer the question “In what ways do online media and communities influence collective and individual actions and/or behaviors?”. In addition to this, the overall influence of collective intelligence on behavior and culture as it has grown more and more prevalent in daily life will be discussed.

Main Concepts[edit]

Online Communities/Media and Individual Behavior

Online Communities/Media and Group Behavior

One of the most beautiful parts of the internet and the reach it has across society is its ability to create of online communities. From activism to knitting to obscure pictures of Keanu Reeves wearing the same pair of shoes throughout the years obstenively noting the progression of duct tape he uses to keep said shoes together- if you can think of it there is no doubt a community for it. We can learn by joining these communities- they can extend our knowledge on a certain subject or open our eyes to issues we may have never seen before. Online communities- just like real life, in person communities are able to connect people through a common thread: an interest, a passion or a similarity.

An example of some of the most popular online communities are as follows: DeviantArt: an art community where people can post their artwork and comment with praise and feedback on other art within the community, this community has 22,000,000 registered users , BlackPlanet: a social networking site which focuses on African-American users posting job vacancies, discussing political issues and even has a section for matchmaking, this community has 20,000,000 registered users and CouchSurfing: a networking site for travelers which helps them find locals in the area they are traveling to who will let them sleep on their couch, this site has 2,967,421 registered users. As you can tell from these three examples of online communities- the internet provides a place for vastly different people and groups to come together and discuss their desired topic.

A great example of a specific online community having an effect on its participants and individuals actions and behaviour stems from the subset of the internet's participation in creating fan-culture among film fanatics. No subset of cinema fans is more prevalent than the fans of “so bad it’s good films”.

In McCulloch’s essay, “Most People Bring Their Own Spoons’: The Room’s participatory audiences as comedy mediators” McCulloch discusses how the internet has formed the basis for individual actions and behaviors among the audiences of Tommy Wiseau's 2003 dramatic tragedy turned comedy by it’s audience. The study focuses on how the film which was written as a tragedy was perceived as comedy by its audience and the online community that contributed to this new placement of genre along with the audience participation tendencies that have been created entirely by the online community. One of the interviewees commented on the aspect of online community in creating these actions and behaviors at screenings and the overall perception of the tragedy as a comedy:

“Sharing the clips online has been a really communal thing - finding different clips, sharing them, noticing different things each time you watch them and pointing stuff out to each other. The comments below the clips are some of the funniest I’ve seen on YouTube. Stuff just tends to be funnier when there’s *sic+ more people around to share it, you spark each other off. It’s quite rare I think that someone would burst out laughing hysterically if they were sat in their flat on their own, so seeing the room en mass [sic] with fellow fans seemed the only way to enjoy it.” (McCulloch, "‘Most People Bring Their Own Spoons’: The Room’s participatory audiences as comedy mediators", 2011)

This quote from the study fully illustrates the reach online communities have in influencing collective and individual actions and behaviors within groups of people that then transfer into their everyday actions in ‘real world’ gatherings and events. The film “The Room” is such an interesting subject to focus on when it comes to the way in which online media and communities influence collective and individual actions and behaviors as the film itself wouldn’t have been as much of a mainstream success as it is if it wasn’t perceived as one of the ‘best worst films ever’ by its online audience.

In screenings of the film, the audience are known to throw plastic spoons at the screen and shout out lines of dialogue along with the characters as forms of ‘in-jokes’ the fans have created within their online communities which they are then choosing to bring into the ‘real world’ within their communities. You are able to find pages and forums online that explain in detail the traditions of these screenings and breaks down every in-joke for newcomers- reinforcing the fact that even if you were a first time viewer to a screening of The Room you would probably have to mingle within an online community first to understand the “real life” setting- proving that not only does online media and communities influence collective and individual actions and behaviors but that individual actions and behaviours also influence the adoption of online communities themselves. This enforces exactly how important online communities are and how they foster collective and individual actions within their online communities.

Positive Collective/Individual Action from Online Communities and Media

The initial arrival of the internet brought with it expansive new means of communication, and as internet technologies advanced, so too did the speed and capacity of the communication. When the internet began to be more commonly used by the consumers, many of the most frequented sites were news sites and message boards, limited by text and images and the time it took for the connections to be established. However since then, internet speed capacities have increased to the point of instant communication and this has allowed communities and community action to occur more readily and effectively. But much like any technology, its implementation can be used for either positive or negative means. This section will explore some of the positive examples of how online communities function.

In 2004, Henry Jenkins wrote on the connections between technological advancement, specifically communicational technology, and the engagement of media and its audiences;

“Media convergence s more than simply a technological shift. Convergence alters the relationship between existing technologies, industries, markets, genres and audiences. Convergence refers to a process, but not an endpoint. Thanks to the proliferation of channels and the portability of new computing and telecommunications technologies, we are entering an era where the media will be everywhere and we will use all kinds of media in relation to each other.” (Jenkins, The Cultural Logic of Media Convergence, p. 34, 2004)

With this concurrent rise of technology and telecommunication, the online communities have formed, largely based around common interests, regardless of real-world boundaries and distances. These communities were mostly based on message board websites, such as The Simpsons Archive (also referred to as the SNPP, named for the in-show power plant) which has been actively used and contributed to by volunteers since 1994. The site brings together fans of the show to share, contribute and archive information, such as episode capsules, guides and general information. The Simpsons Archive has gained recognition over the years, including being placed on WebUser’s “Top 100 TV Websites” list in 2002, being credited as an essential resource for Chris Turner’s analytical book Planet Simpson and has even reached Simpsons creator Matt Groening, who said of the site;

“Sometimes we have a look at fan sites to remember [what we have done before]: one of the best is I have no idea what those initials mean, but it has a lot of stuff. Though for them, every episode is the worst ever.” [1]

By 2007, internet communications had advanced to the point for more instantaneous updates, and this speed of communication proved to be vital during the Virginia Tech Shooting. Whilst the attack was taking place, staff and students quickly set up a Facebook group to allow each other and their friends and family outside of campus to know about their status, and to confirm those who had died. Because of the gravity of the situation, the demand for accuracy was high, and also created a need to cooperate and collaborate for the sake of those in need of help and reassurance. In a study conducted a year after the shooting, observers noted the shared mentality of the contributors and users of this Facebook group, writing;

“…instead of rumor-mongering, we see socially-produced accuracy. How does this happen? In our study, the participants, who were working within a king of ‘discourse about death’ - where respect for the victims and their families demanded accuracy - established expectations for behavior about how information about victims was to be treated. Participants had to legitimize themselves as authorized ‘speakers’ of information when reporting name of the deceased by citing sources. When participants were unsure of reports, they requested corroboration by others. …” (Viewag et al, p. 10, 2008)

This example, despite being a grim an solemn one, is a positive example of how collective intelligence is used by online communities to achieve something beneficial.

Negative Collective/Individual Action from Online Communities and Media

Despite the positive examples of actions taken by online communities referenced above, there are still many examples of the opposite being true. As with any technology, its implementation can be either positive or negative. In this section, the negative implementations of online media by its communities will be discussed and the reasons how and why such online behaviours differ so much.

In his 2006 book, Convergence Culture: Where the New and Old Media Collide, Henry Jenkins gives an example of the misuse of digital media;

“Intoxicated students at a local high school use their cell phones spontaneously to produce their own soft-core porn movie involving topless cheerleaders making out in the locker room. Within hours, the movie is circulating across the school, being downloaded by students and teachers alike and watched between classes on personal media devices. When people take media into their own hands, the results can be wonderfully creative; they can also be bad news for all involved.” (Cope & Kalantzis, Literacies, Chapter I, 2012)

Although this particular example is hypothetical, there have been reports of similar scenarios occurring with increasing frequency since the rise in availability of mobile devices with internet capability. Such examples include that of a 17-year-old schoolgirl in the United Arab Emirates, who was being blackmailed by a 22-year-old man with compromising and revealing pictures sent online. This negative experience online severely affected the girl’s offline behaviour;

“Her behaviour changed, her performance in school below par. She shunned way from her friends until the teacher talked to her. She told the teacher that she was being blackmailed […] and she was afraid to tell her parents, and she feared her pictures would be exposed.” (Lt. Col. Ali Al Naddas, cited in The National, 20 Mar. 2017)

This unfortunate practise has been the subject of many recent watchdog and cautionary initiatives, such as programs launched by and Cybersmile, who aim to prevent internet blackmail and other forms of cyberbullying, which has become the predominant form of bullying. (The Telegraph, 13 Nov. 2009)[2]

This kind of negative online action can also be found in the aforementioned fan forums and communities. In his book on fan cultures online, Jenkins describes the discrimination and prejudices that can be present within communities that are meant to bring likeminded people together;

“While early accounts of fandoms stressed its communitarian ideals, more recent studies have stressed conflicts. Andre MacDonald has described fandom in terms of various disputes - between male and female fans, between fans of different assumptions about the desired degree of closeness of the producers and stars, between fans who seek the police the production of certain fantasies and fans assert their freedom from such constraints, between different generations of fans, and so forth.” (Jenkins, Fans, Bloggers and Gamers, p. 143, 2013)

This kind of division of a community undermines the perceived unity of the people that populate the same fandoms. But perhaps the lack of restrictions in who might join a community - due to the seamless connectivity the modern internet allows - does unfortunately more readily allow the more “unpleasant” people to enter the discourse. And with the anonymity afforded by the internet, such negative behaviours are more likely to occur, possibly because the perpetrator feels that they are not going to get caught or that they will not face any consequences for their actions.

Overall Impact of Online Communities on Behavior - Theory

Much like any technology, the individuals who implement it can influence whether it can be a positive or negative thing. Just as nuclear science can be used to power houses or destroy cities, so too can online communities and activities enhance or endanger lives. - @Fairmanfour: While the examples above show clearly how online communities impact behavior both on an individual and collective level, as well as both positively and negatively, it is important to assess the overall influence of collective intelligence on behavior, after examining all of this evidence. To this point in time, it is very difficult to assess the long term effects that collective intelligence will have human behavior because the concept is so new in the context of human history. In addition to this, online communities and media have been evolving so rapidly, as is the idea of collective intelligence, that studies and assessments that we engage in now may be outdated in only a few years time. However, despite these limitations, there are still significant benefits to developing a theory based off these findings, if only to see how perceptions and knowledge shift in relation to this point in time.

An useful article to put the entire phenomenon of online communities and collective intelligence into perspective is Jian-Guo Liu’s 2018 study comparing how subjects behave in an online gambling scenario with how they behave in a gambling experience in person, in order to analyze risk taking in group work in online settings versus in person to person settings. The researchers found that those participating in the study took slightly fewer risks when gambling in person, but no significantly less. However, the researchers posited that because the subjects were so new to the gambling, even after a few rounds, it was likely that if they continued the study over a larger period of time, the subjects would have began taking more risks the more they understood the game.

These findings are a good summation of how collective intelligence and online communities influence individual and group behavior; working together with many individuals online to learn or develop something is at first odd, and an individual might be more cautious. However, the longer a person or group works collectively with others in an online community, the more likely they become to act differently than they would when offline, because they are becoming more comfortable with the concept of the online space. It takes a topic or issue that a person or group is very passionate about to take these actions from their online life to their offline life. A good example of this would be social movements that begin online, such as the hashtag, #OscarsSoWhite, from a few years ago. Due to the film industry's strong online outcry to the history of the Oscars overlooking the work of people of color for awards, in the Oscars ceremony many performers acknowledged the hashtag. In addition, over the past few years the Oscars academy has made an effort to select a more diverse group of voters for their awards, in order to counteract this criticism directly. Therefore, movements like these perfectly encapsulate the theory of collective intelligence and it's impact on group and individual behavior.


It is an undeniable fact that the expansion of online communities and media have had a dramatic impact on the way in which people all around the world behave, as both individuals and as a collective unit. While there are both positive and negative outcomes from this impact, it is clear collective intelligence's influence on the way in which people and groups will continue to expand. The world has become so interconnected it is improbable that collective intelligence will do anything but expand further, continuing to influence the way in which people and groups behave. Overall, it seems in the current state of collective intelligence is certainly powerful, and can influence how individuals and groups behave, which we will more than likely continue to see over the next few years.


Cope, Bill & Kalantzis, Mary, Literacies, Chapter I, 2012[3]

Crabtree, James, Big Mind by Geoff Mulgan — the power of collective intelligence, Financial Times, 22nd December 2017 [4]

Engel D, Woolley AW, Jing LX, Chabris CF, Malone TW (2014) Reading the Mind in the Eyes or Reading between the Lines? Theory of Mind Predicts Collective Intelligence Equally Well Online and Face-To-Face. PLoS ONE 9(12): e115212. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0115212

Jenkins, Henry, Convergence Culture: Where the New and Old Media Collide, American Council of Learned Societies, 2006 [5]

Jenkins, Henry, The Cultural Logic of Media Convergence, International Journal of Cultural Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1st March 2004 [6]

Jenkins, Henry, Fans, Bloggers and Gamers, New York University Press, 2013 [7]

Jenkins, Henry & Deuze, Mark, Editorial: Convergence Culture, International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 2008 [8]

Lesser et al, Access the untapped knowledge of your networks, [9]

Liu, Jian-Guo, Li, Ren-Di, Guo, Qiang, Zhang, Yi-Chen, (2018) Collective Iteratoin Behavior for Online Social Networks. Physica A 499, pg. 490-497.

McCulloch, Richard, ‘Most People Bring Their Own Spoons’: The Room’s participatory audiences as comedy mediators, Participation : Journal Of Audience And Reception Studies, 2011[10]

Nación, La, 26 Apr. 2007[11]

National, The,, 20 Mar. 2017[12]

Rajwinder Kaur & Reena Shah (2018) Collective intelligence: Scale development and validation, Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, DOI: 10.1080/10911359.2018.1432438

Telegraph, The,, 13 Nov. 2009[13]

Vieweg et. al, Collective Intelligence in Disaster: Examination of the Phenomenon in the Aftermath of the 2007 Virginia Tech Shooting, University of Colorado, May 2008 [14]