The author, Bryon Burkhalter, first tries to establish a working definition of race. It is described as “a biological phenomenon in which societies invest social meaning.” Determining racial identity of others usually relies primarily on physical characteristics of other individual such as skin color and vocal patterns. He states that knowing someones race is useful because “it provides for stereotypical understandings based on a racially immutable body” and that “it's a reliable social resource.” Burkhalter maintains that online racial identification is not lacking even with the removal of physical cues and that “racial identity is a feature of many online interactions.”
For his research, Burhalter primarily focused on several Usenet groups that were centered around racial culture. Users in these groups often self-identify through several different means including stating their racial “category”, by using vernacular expressions, as well as mentioning their parents, heritage, hometown etc. Burhalter has determined that users of these forums identify themselves in an organized way through their ongoing discussions. Rather than online users being unsure of each others races while in communication online, he believes that users are certain of each others racial identities and that in general do not indicate they are unsure or distrustful of each other. Cues to racial identification are carried along with the users stated “perspectives on racial issues.” One outcome of this physical disconnect is that if another user makes a statement which another views as a discrepancy, the reader can adjust their view of the identity of the other user to fit their perspective.
The author then gives a short description of what Usenet newsgroups are. He states that Usenet resembles a “large cocktail party.” Here is a link to a FAQ on Usenet: http://www.faqs.org/faqs/usenet/what-is/part1/
Some users take the physically anonymous online opportunity to claim a racial identity other than their own. It seems in most cases however that participants are more concerned with being known and in how they are received than in deceiving others. Specific cultural, racial, or ethic terms are sometimes used in subject lines when bringing up a specific topic for discussion to assist in framing the conversation towards a specific audience although this does not assure that race will be relevant though the course of the discussion comments.
Sometimes asserting a specific identity can be disputed and anonymous messages can “undercut the credibility of an author's identity and argument”. In some cases rather than attacking a user's argument, their “claimed social position” is attacked which deflects from the actual discussion of their view. Stereotyping online can work in an almost reverse way from “standard” stereotyping. Rather than determining someones beliefs by their race, one might use someones beliefs to help determine a persons race in an online interaction. Race is still relevant online and stereotypes flourish in Usenet environments.