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Communities and Web 2.0 Social Networks

How Web 2.0 has altered the way sports fans can congregate online, allowing for the formation of communities

Abstract:

This paper aims to demonstrate the engagement between users on the micro-blogging platform Twitter leads to the integration of online communities. It will be focusing primarily on the communities surrounding NBA (National Basketball Association) fans and how by facilitating conversation within online communities, it can also create a toxicity between fans, teams and athletes.

Introduction:

Web 2.0 has revolutionized the way users’ access and utilize the internet, with advancements in technology making it more collaborative, and grounds for interaction amongst users. This has seen a shift in user behavior from the read only versions of web 1.0 to a more interactive and writable phase of web 2.0, facilitated by microblogging platforms like Twitter which encourages interaction, through follows, likes, retweets and quoted tweets. The concept of communities in an online sphere can be defined as a sparsely knit, and widely, often geographically dispersed social network where users/members alike connect over a shared interest (Wellman, Boase, & Chen, 2002), As well as being considered as a third place in the online context allowing for interactions between fans and players. 

Twitter’s role in the development of communities on web 2.0 platforms is apparent, with the platform facilitating conversation and community groups for almost any topic. An example of this is the ways in which sports fans are able to create and facilitate conversation in an online context and discuss events, news, and results with like-minded people in real time. More specifically, how NBA fans are able to congregate in online spaces and drive discussion over a shared interest with other users based on team or player performances, breaking news and scores. While this has been beneficial for users worldwide to interact with fellow fans in an online space regardless of location, it also raises questions on the toxicity of the online fan culture between fans, athletes and reporters and how it can negatively affect the community and the game.

Twitter as a Platform and the NBA’s Presence:

Twitter as a micro-blogging platform has altered the way users interact in an online space. The platform is asymmetric in nature, where connections aren’t always reciprocated  (Gruzd, Wellman, & Takhteyev, 2011), yet it provides the means for uses to interact and engage with others regardless of their connections. This is the basis of online communities, and twitter helps facilitate this, especially in a context where the interaction between fans and players is naturally asymmetrical due to the nature of the situation, where athletes are considered to be celebrities and have accustomed a large following.

The NBA has a very active social media presence across majority of platforms, including their twitter account. The official NBA twitter account (@NBA) boasts 30.4 million followers (National Basketball Association, n.d.), and is often the place where fans will first congregate and interact with, through following, liking or retweeting, before establishing connections with other fans. These connections are extended using hashtags used by NBA official accounts like #NBATwitter and #NBATogetherLive which are grounds for conversation and interaction between fans and other users. 

Like the NBA official accounts, all 30 teams of the league have their own official team accounts that publish news, updates and scores specific to the players of that team. It also enables a space where fans are able to engage and establish connections with each other based on the shared interest of supporting the same teams. From this supporter groups arise, creating online communities. These supporter groups although at times can be geographically based in the same area due to the geographic affiliation of each team with a city, are still very much dispersed globally, with users from across the globe being able to participate in conversations surrounding the team regarding scores, updates and news. 

Each of the 30 NBA team accounts also utilise hashtags within their tweets relevant to their team. This is common across all sporting codes and teams, as the hashtags used in tweets will filter content specific to the topic of the team or event taking place. For example, current NBA champions the Toronto Raptors on twitter (@Raptors) use the hashtag #WeTheNorth as a team specific hyperlink to discuss relevant team topics. Fans are then able to click on the hyperlinked hashtag and see conversation surrounding their team, as well as participate in discussion by using the hashtag themselves in tweets or replies. Hashtags are an integral part of twitters user experience, and the way that they are utilised by the NBA and teams helps create conversation amongst users centred around a common theme or interest, setting the basis for communities to be integrated in an online space.

The Importance of Real-Time Content:

Twitter, like many platforms, exists in a time where information is readily made available and constantly refreshed. From an online community perspective, like that of NBA fans, this access to information in real time presents the opportunity for active discussion, whether it be over the game results or say breaking news, like the announcement of the suspension of the 2019-2020 season last month (Aschburner, 2020). The information is readily available for users to discuss, which is important because as content becomes saturated online, the events of a few days ago, even a few hours ago will become outdated for many users. This discussion that comes from real time updates on twitter are presented as a series of individual, noisy but concise tweets from multiple users that are then converged on the timeline into what is known as a stream. These streams represent sub events, defined as moments within events, like a clutch performance in the dying seconds of a sporting game, that has generated discussion from various sources (Shen, Liu, Weng, & Li).

These discussions on twitter can be accompanied by video, pictures or links that allow for increased interaction from users further facilitating discussion amongst fans, official team accounts or journalists, affirming the presence of a twitter based online community.  

Interactivity Through Gaming Streams, and How Twitter Drives This:

Over the recent years there has been an increase in the number of NBA stars who have opted to use twitter as a platform to interact with their followers and provide insight on their personal life. By having a presence online, these athletes are enabling engagement with other fellow athletes as well as with fans, facilitating the notion of an online community. With many athletes rarely directly interacting with fans, due to their large number of followers and saturation of tweets/replies for fans, twitter has facilitated grounds for conversation by including features like live streaming and polls, where fans feel they can still interact with. Up to 34% of tweets by professional athletes fell into the category of “interactivity” based on a study of 1,962 tweets (Greenhalgh, Simmons, Hambrick, & Greenwell). This data indicates that athletes are using twitter for this interactivity with fans more than any other reason, and in an organic nature meaning the players actually want to interact and start conversations with fans.

This approach has become a lot more frequented in the last few months following the suspension of the 2019-2020 NBA season due to the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic (Aschburner, 2020), as players, and even team accounts have turned to live streaming games, and E-Sport content on platforms like Discord and Twitch. While this is primarily done on platforms other than twitter, most of the conversation and announcements of said streams are done via twitter as convergence amongst platforms is easily accessible.

Players that have now established themselves on gaming platforms, are now playing against each other, announcing it on twitter and embedding links to their twitch streams, an example of this is Phoenix Suns player Devin Booker, and Meyers Leonard of the Miami Heat announcing via twitter that they will be streaming together (Leonard, 2020). Leonard also tweets snippets of the stream for his followers to watch and interact with if they are unable to join the stream, providing this interactivity between players and fans which is seen as the basis of forming an online community.

Toxicity of Online Communities:

With the beneficial aspects that have come out of utilising twitter as a platform for an online community amongst NBA fans, there is a growing culture of toxicity that exists with many online platforms as anonymity alters the way people behave and interact with each other. The dynamic of twitter means users can choose how they present themselves online. For many athletes, journalist and fans they will often create their profiles to personally reflect themselves, using their own picture and voicing their own ideas and opinions. Yet some users will exercise their rights to anonymity online and create accounts representing a different version of themselves, often in the forms of online trolls. 

As NBA players are constantly in the spotlight, they are not immune to the discussions amongst fans on twitter. Players will have bad games, as will teams, which is understandable considering the nature of professional sports. But due to the broadcasting of the game, and constant conversation happening online, anger over a particular player/game can be directed towards them which can have negative affects mentally on the players.  

The NBA’s own online presence and being the centre of such discussions has affected its own players. JJ Redick, now current player for the New Orleans Pelicans, told Tom Haberstroh of Bleacher report about his negative relationship with social media, particularly twitter when playing for the Philadelphia 76ers, “It’s not a healthy place. It’s not real. It’s not a healthy place for ego” (Haberstroh, 2018).  

The report goes on to state that the NBA has revitalised itself with its online presence, which is evident when looking at their integration of content across all social media platforms, as well as their ability to facilitate and drive fan interaction.  

This according to Wellman, Boase and Chen fits their definition of online communities as “sparsely-knit, spatially-dispersed social networks”  (Wellman, Boase, & Chen, 2002) as it has given the ability for worldwide conversation, yet the saturation of social media and the attitudes of fans at times can be toxic, taking a toll on players. When conversation between fans is presented in an overly negative tone, it too can cause others to think or feel that way especially if that’s the way content is presented. Twitter can be detrimental in this way, as fans can become apathetic and very blasé in the way their tweet, especially in a sporting context where most of the passion is driven from the competitive nature of the sport and built upon the rivalries of their teams or particular players. 

Conclusion:

The accessibility of twitter as a micro-blogging site for users has made it a great platform to facilitate the formation of online communities. This is because anyone is able to access and connect with each other, from official accounts like that of the NBA and its affiliates, to athletes, reporters, journalists and fans, regardless of location. As well as the way it supports digital integration across other platforms, yet it can also take a toll mentally, as the opinions expressed by some users can prove to be unrestrained and harsh. The notion that communities revolve around face to face interaction is diminishing as the internet and advancements of web 2.0 have enabled platforms like twitter to facilitate community groups more sparsely, and geographically dispersed (Wellman, Boase, & Chen, 2002), with interactions online congregating users based of shared interest and therefore driving conversations on those topics. 

14 replies on “How Web 2.0 has altered the way sports fans can congregate online, allowing for the formation of communities”

Hi Keisha,
I really enjoyed reading your paper. I am not a user of twitter myself so i’m not very familiar with how it all works but i do know how much of an impact twitter can have on making communities and mini-societies. I really enjoyed you insight on the NBA and the way they use Twitter to their advantage. Specially how they are keeping their pages active during the time as the 2019-2020 season was canceled.

I too wrote about a social media platform and how the communities on their. I wrote about how Instagram’s beauty communities are affecting one’s self-identity. Here is the link if you would like to check it out https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2020Curtin/2020/05/10/what-sacrifices-do-we-make-in-order-to-blend-in-between-online-and-offline-communities-and-how-much-of-our-self-identity-do-we-lose/?preview_id=141&preview_nonce=dd7c64d8c5&preview=true

Again, i really enjoyed reading your paper.
Thanks,
Jade

Hi Jade,
Thank you for your comment! I will be sure to check out your paper as I am very interested in the ways different social media platforms facilitate communities and conversation.
Keisha

Thanks Keisha!
Me too i think it’s definitely a very interesting topic and there is so many perspectives to!

Jade

Hi Keisha,
I enjoyed reading your paper. I have just recently started to use twitter to engage with different sports and teams that I follow and I found the points you made interesting and relevant! The Twitter community surrounding sports or a specific team is definitely very interactive and inclusive through various Web 2.0 affordances that you mentioned (hashtags, tags, likes and retweets etc.)

You talked about the interaction of NBA players with fans on Twitter and how with COVID-19, instead of live sports content, players and team accounts have had to create new and alternative online content such as gaming or live-streaming. Do you think that this alternative content that is not usually posted has attracted and drawn in more fans because they are able to get to know players on a more personable level rather than just an athlete? Which could mean that when NBA season resumes, this time has allowed even more fans to join the community and new audience members for seasons going forward?

I also completely agree with the toxicity of online culture/community where anonymous users are able to say what they want and hide behind their screens.

I also wrote about Web 2.0 affordances in relation to Instagram and how users find and express different types of identity performances. I would appreciate if you checked it out https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2020Curtin/2020/05/11/communication-and-collaboration-through-web-2-0-affordances-on-virtual-online-communities-for-expression-of-identity-performance-of-identity-on-instagram/

Thanks,
Amy

Yes I agree with Amy, now as the games or even the olympics have been postponed, there has been serious buzz in twitter trending with hashtags. These micro-blogging gets serious attention from the same community fans other than any platform. @keisha Glad you chose the twitter platform.

Yes I also agree with Amy, As there’s postponed of game seasons like NBA, AFL or even Olympics. There is a serious buzz going on such platforms, people are using hashtags and trending their opinion on game postpones from the same community. where I see the micro-bloggings gets serious attention from the fans from same community. @keisha I’m Glad you choose the platform Twitter.

My paper is about Instagram Marketing, social commerce and consumer trust. Hope you’d like it 🙂
https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2020Curtin/2020/05/23/instagram-marketing-has-revolutionized-social-commerce-the-consumer-trust-and-the-role-of-influencers/

Thanks for your comment Jashwanth!
I agree, even with no live sport going on right now, there is still a huge buzz especially on twitter.
I will make sure to check out your paper
Thanks,
Keisha

Hi Amy, Thank you for your comment!
I do believe that due to the current circumstances, the alternate content produced by players and teams including gaming streams has attracted different kinds of fans, as well as help maintain and even build a greater interaction between players and fans.
I will definitely have a look at your paper!
Thanks,
Keisha

Hey Keisha! Your paper was quite a fun read, especially since I am a sport fan myself & belong to a couple sporting communities on Reddit!

I found the study that you mentioned about how athletes are using twitter for interacting with fans more than any other reason to be quite interesting as I personally never thought this would be the case. I also found it enlightening to know that this engagement is organic and not just forced by the players managers or clubs! And if it is to be believed that athletes are interacting organically with fans, I’m sure it won’t be long till we see fans playing games with the athletes on their live streams you mentioned!

I also found your discussion on the toxicity in online sporting communities to be quite interesting, you mention the idea of anonymity online and how it can cause toxicity within these communities. Personally, I believe these communities would garner a fair level of toxicity with or without anonymity as sport fans are often very passionate and thus events such as losses can cause people to get riled up and lash out even without them being anonymous. What do you think? I also think places like Reddit which have subreddits for specific clubs lessen or even remove toxicity as users are rooting for the same team, which removes catalysts for toxicity in these communities such as the club rivalry & competition.

I also wrote my paper in the Web 2.0 & Communities stream, feel free to go check it out and leave a comment through the link below!

https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2020Curtin/2020/05/09/__trashed/

Hi James,
Thanks for your comment!
I agree with the point made about toxicity even without the anonymity, as the nature of sport is very competitive, fans usually wont hesitate to voice their personal opinions even if they are at times nasty/toxic.
I too am a part of some sports teams subreddits and agree that they are a lot less toxic as majority of the fans share a vested interest in the team.
I will make sure to check out your paper!
Thanks,
Keisha

Hi Keisha!

The most interesting part of your paper to me is the paragraph on toxicity of online communities. I realised that toxic communities is evident in other communities especially the beauty community on twitter, where it even turns into cancel culture. I wonder if cancel culture is evident in the NBA community. Can professional development of NBA players be effected by the toxicity of online fans and has cancel culture been evident in NBA Players where an online scandal immediately impacted their career?

Nisrina Alfie

Hi Nisrina,
I agree, toxic communities are very much evident in other communities, however I don’t think cancel culture is as much evident as it is in the beauty community. One of the reasons for this I believe is that the demographic of the fan base for NBA is very different to that of the beauty community, and that the players and their lives are secondary to the sport and the team, meaning most will follow these players for insight into the teams success instead of just their daily life.
On the part about a scandal impacting a players career, its hard to think of a major one that comes to mind, in the past there has been betting, cheating and match fixing scandals made public but nothing thats been detrimental to ones career?
I hope this answers your question,
Thank you so much for taking the time to read my paper
Keisha

Hi Keisha!

This was a super interesting read! I am not very aligned with sports, and certainly do not interact with sporting content online; so this really widened my perspective and provoked critical thought.

Firstly, I really appreciated your use of sub-headings. I feel like they were both intriguing and informative.

I particularly found your discussion surrounding the mental health of athletes due to harsh criticism, very interesting. I feel that in our society, athletes are often held to unrealistic standards because fans are typically very passionate. While this may prove as an advantage in some instances (an abundance of praise when people are happy with your work), I can see how this unrestrained scrutiny could be very damaging).

I just wanted to know, are you privy to any other examples of athletes with an unhealthy relationship with social media, or that have identified it as being detrimental to their career? (that you did not include in this paper).

Thank you for this piece! I thoroughly enjoyed.

Emily.

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