Some see them as social circles or places where someone can stand out. Ideas are shared, plans for meet-ups can be arranged, and friendships are forged. How can anyone feel alone in the vast communities of cyberspace? We are living in a world where every clique, every group, every small little neighborhood of data and people flood every web page.
Looking for people who have similar interests? Done.
Looking for someone with similar political or religious views? Done.
Whether someone is looking for friends or adversaries, the internet has changed how communities can be formed. Looking at the endless amount of communities on every social media site or forum can almost be overwhelming. Singer and songwriter, Pam Moore, once said:
“You can never go wrong by investing in communities and the human beings within them.”
How does it apply to today’s virtual world of communities? Are there any repercussions for this? Looking back… Human beings are social creatures.
Being in Groups Always was the Best Way to Survive
A good example of this social study was the 1950’s when the society in the United States was changing fast. Automobile sales doubled, and more people were moving from rural areas to the suburbs. Cultures and norms expanded, as the first highways were built. Businesses catering to the car-centric people grew, and entertainment was booming. There was more leisure time available for families and individuals. Social groups evolved and grew, bringing people together.
Fast forward to the 1960’s, some of those groups would come to the forefront, and would change society as we know it today: the civil rights movement. As a movement, individuals from multiple communities that spanned cities and states would band together. In acts of protest, the sacrifice and message of peace between these groups would eventually bring forth social change to the entire country we know today. As a result, this is only one example of how groups of individuals formed communities. The evolution of movement (cars in this instance) brought people from different parts of the world closer together.
People interacting with other people would lead to suburban areas and cities to form said communities booming with activity. As these people came together, some would influence change or recognize solutions to problems that often concerned them. This is, at a glance, is how communities came together before the age of the internet.
Present Day Communities
This is not to say that social interaction without a monitor no longer exists. Church groups, clubs, organizations and safe spaces are available in some facilities. However getting members to be a part of these communities has become easier through the internet.
With a few clicks and an email, someone’s group can be established on most social media sites like Facebook. In fact, Zuckerberg announced just last year that nearly one billion people have already used their group’s feature. Another study also determined that about 80 percent of people participate in online communities to help others. As a result, looking for a community to be involved in just takes a simple search engine. With all these members and activity, what comes next?
Organizing Communities on a Keyboard
Like any community, a set schedule of activities could be established to keep members going. Maybe someone needs help with a task and can ask members to help them? Even job offerings can be sent out to the community page for members to see, which make places like LinkedIn extremely valuable. Essentially, being active in an online community (or online communities) people can do just as much with others from the comfort of their home.
Computer-mediated communication is more helpful since one can edit, improve and develop a clean presentation when talking to other members. In fact, most members of communities like Reddit or Twitter probably don’t need to leave their home. Making those tweets and threads are what make them active community members, and receiving followers only makes them more prominent.
According to some market research, 40 percent of Twitter users made purchases as a result of a tweet. This level of branding and interaction with celebrities on Tweets or via an AMA on Reddit is a different goldmine for marketing. However, it is clear that the more prominent one can be, the more likely they will influence a community. This leads to another question.
Aside from meeting real-life people from these communities, what kind of impact can they have, and is it exclusively good?
Movements on the Move
There are tons of communities to interact with, and many have a message. Whatever the message may be, there is likely a way to spread it out. With proper planning and organization, online rhetoric can turn to action. An online community of 1,000 members can accomplish a lot.
Petitions signature goals can be met, flash mobs can be organized and protests can be scheduled. There are no limits for a community that wants to serve a purpose and make a difference. A protest in 2014 brought thousands of people together in Hong Kong thanks to the global network of social media communities.
Like the civil rights movement of the 1960’s, it appears as though being able to change and influence the world for the better has been made even easier. However, could it also serve other motives? A community of people who share different views of hate for example. Between 2014 and 2015, likes on hate group tweets tripled, with 2016 counting more than in any other year since 2008.
Of all the good impacts online communities can have, they can also be used to hurt, and the upsurge of hate groups are using communities for their means. Organizing and rallying together, much of this became possible through online communities, including the protest turned violent in Charlottesville.
With something as endless and vast as online communities, is censorship of hate groups serving a purpose, or completely missing the point of what makes this interaction possible for everyone?
Only time and evolution of the medium will tell.
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