How Facebook – the Walmart of the internet – dismantled online subcultures

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Before the internet, people interested in body modification – not just tattoo and piercing enthusiasts, but those drawn to more unusual practices like ear pointing, tongue splitting, suspension, scarification and the voluntary amputation of limbs and organs – had a difficult time meeting others who shared their interests.

The internet, of course, changed everything: You can chat and connect with anyone from your computer. And in 1994 – more than a decade before Facebook launched – body modification enthusiasts started their own social media platform: the Body Modification E-zine, or BME.

First operating as a bulletin board service (an early form of online message boards), BME eventually added features and functions that were forerunners before now-familiar online tools: blogging, wikis, online dating and podcasts.

But as sites like Facebook and Myspace emerged, BME found itself competing for attention with these new “global communities.” The story of the website shows how onlinecommunities can form and fall apart – and how Facebook’s monolithic presence makes enduring internetcommunities for people on the margins of society that much more precarious.

A commitment to authenticity

BME, along with the longstanding punk scene in New Brunswick, New Jersey and Brooklyn’s booming drag culture, are the three communities I studied in my forthcoming book “Digital Countercultures and the Struggle for Community.” Read More

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