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Internet chatroom users can be so aggressive that a sociologist studying them has labelled some online communities "electronic fight clubs".

According to the new research, even the most laid-back people can erupt into furious rants when debating online, and it's all part of an effort to distinguish themselves from the next user. Some even take on multiple personalities in a bid to outsmart their online acquaintances, while others adopt menacing usernames.

Gordon Fletcher, an information systems lecturer at Salford University, revealed his findings to the British Sociological Association meeting this week. His paper, entitled "Fight Club: culture, conflict and everyday life amongst an online community, focussed on a sociological study of an online finance forum", describes conflict as "a unifying social force that shapes individual participant's relationships with one another".

The research's abstract explains: "Conflict is an important social force among online communities, as it assists in the construction of hierarchies and social orders without the need for prior knowledge of individual participants or other forms of verification or trust in relation to the claimed identity of others."


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