In Nancy K. Baym’s chapter on “Communication in Digital Spaces,” she discusses “what happens to communication itself…when it’s digitally mediated” (39). Many early studies on the effects of new media to express social cues found that while “mediated communication may be better than face to face for some tasks, but for those involving personal identity and feelings, mediation was depicted as inherently inferior” (42). Because of this, it was believed that mediation would make it “more difficult to maintain conversational alignment and mutual understanding,” as well as hide social identity cues, making interactants have greater anonymity and thereby making “gender, race, rank, physical appearance, and other features of identity not immediately evident.” However, according to Baym, it is seen that these studies are either problematic or just incorrect, as they do not fully express the multiplicities of ways that mediated communication functions to replace these so-called lost social cues.
Many groups that use mediated communication create social cues specifically for that group, effectively showing “what people do with mediated communication” vs “what mediation does to communication.” These groups build and reinforce social structures, as can be seen in a Facebook group called Cool Freaks’ Wikipedia Club. This group “is for posting cool/freaky Wikipedia articles that you find, and for discussion about them.”
While this seems like a fairly straightforward type of group that users can use to both find and share Wikipedia articles with others, it instead has a list of rules that users must follow or face being banned. These rules exclusively have to do with personal identity, and thereby illuminate the so-called anonymity of interactants, as they specifically state users to “feel free to help discourage racism, misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, etc.”
Cool Freaks’ thereby attempts to create a safe space where all types of Othered identities must be considered when posting an article, with trigger-warnings and content warnings required for a list of topics as well as a list of banned topics that are considered inappropriate for the community, as they create an “unsafe” atmosphere. This group and their methods are an example of what people do with mediated communication in order to enhance a specific type of social interaction, as well as build and reinforce social structures, as people who do not follow the rules or who question the moderators are effectively banned.