In what sense are virtual communities real?
In what sense(s) are virtual communities real communities?
A virtual community is a network of people who interact through various forms of media, and allow users to obtain support, advice, friendship and sometimes merely just interaction with others. In a world where the internet is becoming ever more important, and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are now a part of many people's every day lives, there is a strong sense that online, virtual communities are becoming ever more important, perhaps more so than real-life communities. This rise in the virtual communities has led to an intense debate – somewhat ironically, on the internet – as to whether these communities are, or even can be, real. The debates are
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Virtual communities provide many advantages to their users and allow many people to engage in communication and interaction with others that they would otherwise not have. They allow almost instant information exchange, provide support and advice for people who have no-one else to turn to and can give people the chance to interact with thousands of others across the world which they otherwise would not be able to. However, in this way, it can be argued that virtual communities cannot be real communities in the original sense of the word. The traditional definition of community is of a geographically circumscribed entity, therefore neighbourhoods, villages etc. Virtual communities are, in most cases, dispersed geographically, and therefore are not communities under the original definition.5 This is a view shared by Calhoun. He argues that the modern phenomenon of virtual communities is based on indirect social relationships in which communication with others in more imagined than real, and he believes that a true community requires direct, active relationships amongst it's members – 'there is a great deal of difference between social groups formed out of direct relationships among their members and [..] and not necessarily linked by any dense, multiplex, or systematic web of interpersonal relationships.'6 One criticism of virtual communities is that they are unable