What is Erowid?
Before one can delve too far into exploring the community, one should understand what constitutes their digital world. Click on the link below to watch a brief tutorial of erowid.org for an overview about what can be found on the site.
Experience Vaults: Here, visitors can read first-hand accounts about a drug of their choice. They fall into many categories, as can be seen in the caffeine and cannabis screen shots (below). The experiences reports can be searched by substance, author and category, or a combination. Experiences are submitted by individuals and are then reviewed by the Erowid crew and volunteers. According to Fire Erowid, “We reject approximately 50% of all experience reports for a variety of reasons.”
Earth Erowid elaborated on some of those reasons, saying, “There is always the possibility that someone is fabricating their experience report and that’s part of the reason for the review system as it stands. The main reason for the review is that much of the content people produce is poorly written, somewhat incoherent, and of dubious value as data.” There are guidelines listed on the site on how to submit an experience report.
Event Calendar: On erowid.org, there is also a calendar that lists site-related events.
Ask Erowid: Visitors can submit questions to the. The crew of Erowid request the uses take the time to search through past questions and articles throughout the site for the answer to your question, as they cannot always answer all of them. Click on the image below to take you to the “Ask Erowid” page.
Erowid Crew: The crew is made up of four to six people and they also manage a group of volunteers to help go through submitted articles and reports. According to Earth Erowid, “The main crew (4-6 of us) communicate on a daily basis by email, IRC, and phone. We’re in close contact, have weekly phone meetings, and are planning and working on ongoing projects together.” Erowid is based in California, but the crew and volunteers come from all over the world.
The focus of my research is erowid.org, a site filled with information about psychoactive drugs and their relationship with humans. Because the subject of drugs is often considered taboo in some way, I felt that it was important to not only look into the community of Erowid, but also look at a sampling of the community outside. I conducted two surveys. One focused on how people felt about the discussion of drugs, how often and in what way did discussion of drugs happen, and I ended with a question asking if people thought a site that presented information on drugs was ethical. My second survey focused on people’s experience and knowledge with erowid.org and focused on how often people went on the site, what they used it for, and what they thought about the site in general. While the surveys were being conducted over one week, I was also in contact with the crew of Erowid, and throughout my presentation of my research, I will be integrating my survey results in various ways with the information I received directly from Erowid. I approached the project in this way because the site is an informational site, and while the people behind the scenes are the focus of my ethnography, the site itself is designed to inform a different community, and I felt it was my responsibility to look into the general populace as well.
Survey One: “How do you feel about discussing drugs?”
Seventy-one people took this survey, and I broke that number down here into gender.
I sent this survey out over Facebook to over 150 of my “friends” on Facebook. The individuals varied in age, gender, and location in the United States. I encouraged people to share the survey with other friends, and it was also posted here on the erowidethnography. I understand that this is not a true random sampling, but I feel that the voices in the survey at least cover a wide range of views through gender (see left), age and political orientation (see below).
What do you talk about when discussing drugs and drug use? Are these discussions face-to-face, online, or through another medium (and what other medium is it)?
“I try to explain to my children how drugs not only affect you when you take them—they can effect you the rest of your life”
“I have these discussions face-to-face about the frequency that other students on campus use them and how they affect my personal relationships.”
“I do think it is important, as the more this subject is ignored due to taboo or controversy, the more people will go behind closed doors and abuse these drugs without being informed. Information may be the best defense against overdose and irresponsible usage.”
Do you feel that a website dedicated to presenting information about psychoactive drugs (most of them illegal to use, but many being legal in the U.S) is ethical? What would cause you to think it was unethical versus ethical?
“I wouldn’t say it is unethical. If it would be informational, what the reader does with the information can be judged as ethical or unethical, but not the act of providing information.”
“I think such a website would be morally permissible, but not morally praiseworthy.”
Survey Two: “How do you feel about the website erowid.org?”
Only 16 people took this survey, but I expected it to be lower as its purpose was to survey people who are familiar in some way with erowid.org. A link to the Erowid site accompanied the invitation to take this survey, and I encouraged people to look at the site and then take the survey, or take the survey if they already knew about Erowid. I again sent the link to everyone who had been invited to the Facebook event for the first survey (note: if the other survey had been sent to others via Facebook without my knowledge, they too would have been included in the second survey invitation). Again, I felt that although it was a smaller number of respondents, I was impressed with the balance of gender (see below). I did not inquire about age or political orientation in this survey.
When visiting erowid.org, what types of things do you read and look into and why?
“I think it’s a useful tool for people who are interested in psychoactive drugs and their effect on humans. If people are going to use these substances, they should at least be knowledgeable about them (or have the chance to be). Erowid.org serves this purpose well.”
“it seemed informational, but I felt like I was doing something wrong when I was reading it.”
Questions? Comments? Please post below!
Hello, and welcome to my online community ethnography project blog!
In the world of digital media, there are endless possibilities to create new identities, to explore new worlds, and to partake in discussions otherwise kept silent in the privacy of people’s homes. As more and more opportunities arise for people to delve deeper and deeper into the inter-workings of cyberspace, legal and ethical issues also arise. It is becoming increasingly more difficult to keep track of every issue brought to the public’s attention, and the lines of what is legally and morally right are becoming blurrier than ever.
As a journalism student, I am told daily that the publication world is changing. Everything is moving online to the vast world of digital media. This semester, one of my teachers has assigned my class the task to research an online community and explore possible legal and ethical questions that surround the site, the users, the viewers, and even its use by outside members. We are not to judge or frame anyone. That is not the intent. The objective is to take this opportunity to look into a different realm of communication and community, learn something new, exercise our new found knowledge in digital media law and ethics and produce our findings in an innovative, experimental (and digitally-focused) way.
For the next week and a half, I will be exploring the world of erowid.org, an extensive site about psychoactive drugs (categorized by plant, herb, chemicals, etc). The site includes research articles, personal experiences, art, events, and much more information for over 25 drugs. The content is submitted by a mix of different people who use the sight for various reasons. And while many of the drugs and compounds explored on the site are illegal in the United States, there are legal drugs that are focused on as well.
In my research, I am curious about struggles that the site creators have had to face, their motives behind developing such an extensive drug database, and if there has been any outside pressure and persecution towards the creators and the site’s content. I wonder about the ethical concerns of what is published and how, what parts of the drugs are focused on and why, and I hope to look at the ethics of conversation throughout the site.
To help me get a better understanding of the site in its entirety, I hope to look at the people involved and also those who are outside the community. What are their thoughts about a site dedicated to drugs that are so often feared and discussed negatively? Are there people who are worried about the effect this site may have on others and their drug use? Are there people who think that a site which allows discussion of the dangers and enjoyment of the drugs is a valuable thing?
I hope in the next week and a half to have all these questions answered and more! I am also curious to know what you think. Check out www.erowid.org, and post any thoughts you may have that relate to what is discussed here.