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Brauchler, Brigit, Cyberidentities at War: The Moluccan Conflict on the Internet.

Brauchler, Brigit, Cyberidentities at War: The Moluccan Conflict on the Internet, Berghahn Books, New York, 2013, ISBN 9 7808 5745 8544, 434 pp., 68.00 [pounds sterling].

This book is an anthropological account of three online cyber projects that emerged on the internet during the conflict between Christians and Muslims on the Moluccan islands from 1999 to 2002--the Masariku Mailing List, which represented Protestant Christians; the Catholic Crisis Centre of the Diocese of Ambon Newsletter (CCDA); and the Communication Forum of the Followers of the Sunnah and the Community of the Prophet (FKAWJ).

The first three chapters lay the foundations of the study. The author addresses key debates in internet research, focusing more closely on anthropological research tools and methods, and also provides the background to the Moluccan conflict. This is followed by chapters that explore each online community in detail. The last four chapters refer to all three cyber projects, and look at argumentation, strategies and the connection of the online and offline contexts during the conflict.

The study is based on long-term ethnographic online research complemented by offline interviews. It explores the types of engagement that the members of online projects had with technology and with their audiences. The terms 'communitization', 'networking' and 'idealization' are proposed as key concepts. Through the Masariku Mailing List, the connection between Moluccans in Ambon, Indonesia and overseas has been established, and the interactive nature of the project promoted the 'communitization' of the list members. The CCDA newsletter was more centralised, and aimed at building a broad network of Christian organisations; the FKAWJ project set a goal to create an idealised vision of Muslim community and to persuade Moluccan Muslims to subscribe to this view. The author demonstrates that internet technologies were used for different purposes, and that communities formed around them differed in the way collective identities were constructed.

The book contributes to debates on the nature of online communication. The author argues against the dichotomy between 'virtuality' and 'reality'. The study demonstrates that online and offline environments were deeply interconnected during the conflict. Not only did some of the members of the online communities know each other personally, but online communities relied on the information about the conflict that was sourced offline.

Another important point made by the author concerns the difficulty of evaluating the impact of the internet in the course of the conflict. Instead, the importance of the internet as one of the factors needs to be recognised. In case of the Moluccan conflict, the internet made it possible for Christian and Muslim actors to circumvent official government media and to voice their view of the events to a wider audience. This discussion is particularly relevant, as a number of works dedicated to the conflict or activism (during the Arab Spring, for example) have tried to establish cause and effect relations between the use of technology and the outcome of the conflict.

This book makes a valuable contribution to the study of online environments from an anthropological perspective. Brauchler's careful and holistic approach to the research of conflict online makes it relevant not only to scholars working in the field of online anthropology, but also to specialists who identify themselves with the broader field of internet studies.

--Ekaterina Tokareva, Media and Communication, RMIT University
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Author:Tokareva, Ekaterina
Publication:Media International Australia incorporating Culture and Policy
Article Type:Book review
Date:Feb 1, 2015
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