The web casts spell on teen cliques

3rd June 2005 at 01:00
In the past, they whispered in corners of the playgrounds and formed gangs whose members had enviable social status. Now they do it on the internet.

The trends of teenage cliques are being replicated on the internet, according to Julia Davies, of Sheffield university. Self-styled teen witches pepper online conversations with Wiccan turns of phrase - "merry meet" for "hello" and "blessed be" for "goodbye" - to create their own inner circle.

And, as in the playground, virtual teen groups benefit by association with the coolest online cliques. In the case of the UK, it's a group of three 14-year-olds who set up a website, The Silver Circle, under teen-witch pseudonyms.

"They are the real movers and shakers," said Dr Davies, who recently presented a paper on the topic of online teen communities to London university's institute of education. "To use the real first name of one of these girls has real kudos."

Teenagers posting to the messageboard belonging to the Association of Young People with ME, meanwhile, share a breathlessly punctuation-heavy writing style and welcome new members with a gift of cutlery as a surreal in-joke.

Frequently, says Dr Davies, conversations on teen-dominated internet messageboards cover topics that have traditionally been whispered about in playground groups. For example, girls on the AYME messageboard exchange tips on buying large-sized bras.

Dr Davies believes that such private interaction in a public space helps foster a sense of exclusive membership.

Jon Kearnes, 19, attends Exeter college in Devon, and contributes to several messageboards.

He said: "It can be cliquey. It's inevitable when teenagers get together.

New people are often lambasted and chased away, because they don't know enough about a topic.

"But it's a lot more transitory than the playground. There's an influx of new people all the time. And everyone sees everything on the net, so there are fewer repercussions if you express yourself."

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