When tasked with doing a micro-ethnography I tossed around many ideas… blogging the study, PowerPoint, etc, but I finally settled on using Prezi… honestly because I had never used it, and I wanted to try it. Hopefully the final project makes sense to the viewer.
I chose to look at the Cayman News Service (CNS) as it is a site which I visit on a daily basis. I originally only read the news articles, but then began to read the comments section more than the news items themselves. I found that I could often learn more about the story from the attitudes of other readers. Unfortunately, a lot of comments began to take the path towards racism and anti-expat sentiments, etc. Now I find myself skimming them and trying to find the few interesting (coherent) posts among the sea of garbage.
I have lived in the Cayman Islands for 6 years, but there is a sometimes overwhelming attitude towards and resentment of the expatriates who have chosen to move here. I work at the university, and several times I have been taken aback by student comments during my lectures in which they point blank ask me why I am here. They are not simply curious, it is asked with the attitude of “you don’t belong… why are you here… taking a job away from me?”
My thought was to look at the CNS website and specifically the idea of a community. My idea of a community is one in which you feel you belong, where you are made to feel welcome, safe, wanted… If people don’t feel this in the real life Cayman Islands, can they feel part of a virtual community created about the Cayman Islands?
I chose to take one specific news story in which the premier of the Cayman Islands attacks the media for their requesting documents available through the Freedom of Information Act. The premier is noted for his outbursts and attacks on the media and bloggers, specifically the CNS website, and has likened them to devil worshipers. Despite the fact that he is being investigated for corruption, lacks a completed high school education, and has a complete disregard for the rule of law, he remains in power.
This is one of, if not the most commented upon story on the website, and it received 335 comments. Of those, 184 were posted as anonymous, 127 from pseudonyms, and only 26 comments were from potentially real names. However since the CNS comment system allows you to create a name and not verify it as factual, it can be argued that all 335 comments were posted anonymously.
If a community is meant to provide a sense of belonging, how can one belong to it anonymously? Is simply posting a comment, anonymously or not, acceptable for validating your presence in the community? If everyone is anonymous, how do you become an insider/regular? Or is it required that you use a pseudonym to gain that level, and join the ranks?
If we accept Block’s sentiments in Community: The Structure of Belonging, in order to be part of a community, a citizen must “hold oneself accountable.” But is this possible if we are not just anonymous, but afraid to post who we really are? Does this anonymity negate the possibility of growing the community through acknowledging it is not built by it’s “… great leadership, or improved services; it is built by great citizens.”
I am still not certain of how I feel about the CNS website, comments and forums as a virtual community. While it may meet some of the definitions, I argue that to belong, one must be willing to open oneself a little to exposure of your ‘true self.’ I understand the need to remain anonymous in the current political environment in the Cayman Islands, but I also feel that if people were courageous enough to post as themselves perhaps people would feel empowered to demand change.