This digital ethnography explores whether a social network on the dark web can overcomeㅡor avoidㅡthe constraints and affordances of traditional social networks. Gehl’s hypothesis is that power and freedom will be the same no matter where the site is; but hat the Dark Web Social Network (DWSN) is affected by both what we know about traditional networks and by public perception of the dark web. In this essay, Gehl describes the unusual technological challenges in exploring the dark web, the ethical challenges it presented, and the ways in which he protected the anonymity of his research subjects. Gehl’s research shows that being willing to stretch your knowledge of technology–and letting go of preconceived ideas–can lead you to areas of the web that are not possible for the average user.
Gehl, R. W. (2014). Power/Freedom On The Dark Web: A Digital Ethnography Of The Dark Web Social Network. New Media & Society, 1-17. doi:10.1177/1461444814554900
This documentary is the result of ethnographic research conducted by cultural anthropology professor Michael Wesch and his students. In this case, students used digital tools to convey results of on-ground ethnography in a retirement home. The class sought–and found–community inside Meadowlark Hills and then used video to convey their findings: what life is like for residents when creating community is intentional. Wesch says about the project, “Students had to face their own fears of death, they had to grieve for those they lost, and they had to overcome their insecurities to reach across a generational divide that was both wider and narrower than they had imagined.”
Wesch, M. [Michael Wesch]. (2013, June 14). Smile Because it Happened. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/68388753.
The researchers spent 24 hours taking a research “snapshot” of a Facebook group dedicated to the history of Melbourne, Australia. Seeking to explore social media-driven “amateur memory practices,” the researchers were able to determine that the group could be seen as an example of network sociality. In contrast to community, network sociality does not represent belonging to a group. In network sociality social relations are not based on mutual experience or common history, but primarily on an exchange of data. The researchers further hypothesize that the combined posts and interactions have created an anthropological place. The research done on Lost Melbourne is useful for evaluating other Facebook groups and perhaps other online spaces in which historical artifacts are shared.
Schutt, S., Berry, M., & Cianci, L. (2015). Lost Melbourne: A Digital Ethnography of a Facebook Local History Group. Global Ethnographic. Retrieved from http://oicd.net/ge/index.php/lost-melbourne-a-digital-ethnography-of-a-facebook-local-history-group/
Anthropoligist Bonnie Nardi gives readers a firsthand account of World of Warcraft in this book. Nardi spent three years participating in and studying the massively multiplayer online role-playing game: learning gameplay, leveling her character, joining guilds, and advancing through the game in tandem with other players. Nardi also conducted a number of in-person and online interviews, including including a month spent in China studying players who access WoW in internet cafes. This book is an engaging look at gaming culture that addresses gender and addiction, while also debunking the myth of the stereotypical gamer.
Nardi, B. (2010). My Life as a Night Elf Priest: An Anthropological Account of World of Warcraft. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
In this book, author Christine Hine describes the ways the internet has become a part of human life: instead of being a technological phenomenon, it’s simply a tool that makes it possible to work, socialize, and navigate the world. Hine further lays out the challenges ethnographers face in studying online communities and in using digital tools. The book includes strategies for collecting data and participating in online communities and contains case studies from Hine’s own research. While not the easiest book to read, it is the text that many other books and articles cite. Hine is considered one of the preeminent digital ethnographers of her generation.
Hine, C. (2015). Ethnography for the Internet: Embedded, embodied and everyday. London: Bloomsbury.