This paper centres around the deaf community strengthening its ties through social media platforms, such as Facebook, by deaf individuals supporting one another and providing helpful advice in ways that are not possible in traditional communities. This focus results in the paper falling into the Communities and Social Media stream of the conference. Social media can be utilised as a third place to inform and support deaf individuals in the case of disasters and emergencies using deaf-friendly forms of communication. Social media groups on platforms such as Facebook are beneficial for deaf members to recount the everyday struggles they frequently encounter as part of the deaf world and receive support and advice from other deaf individuals who can relate to the same experiences. Social media platforms are effective channels for deaf individuals to motivate and inspire one another to achieve their goals in life. Social media enables deaf individuals to connect from across the world to form persistent contacts that defy time and location. These contacts result in a pervasive awareness of what others in the deaf community do in their day to day lives. This support and strengthening of ties within the deaf community is made possible by the accessibility of social media platforms for deaf users. The use of videos, captions, comments and contrasting colours makes it easy for deaf users to interact with each other.
Communities use social media platforms to keep in touch with one another and maintain ties that would otherwise be lost in traditional communities. Traditionally deaf communities are small and close-knit, due to the inability to communicate with the hearing world, making it hard for members to grow and form connections outside of the community they were born into. Social media platforms create a third space in which individuals from around the world can provide support by alerting deaf individuals to disasters and emergencies. Deaf individuals can share their everyday struggles and impart support and advice on how to overcome these barriers. Deaf communities on social media motivate and inspire each other to achieve their goals in life. These platforms create this third place of support and advice by enabling users to have persistent contact and a pervasive awareness of one another despite shifts in distance and time. These platforms create a more accessible space for their deaf users through their affordances and emphasis on their visual nature. Deaf individuals use social media platforms such as Facebook to create a third place as a safe environment in which to strengthen ties within the deaf community.
Ray Oldenburg and Dennis Brissett initially coined the term the third place in 1982, a concept which Oldenburg further expands on in his book “The Great Good Place” in 1989. Oldenburg describes the third place as being personalised places which are not the first place of home and the second place of work (Oldenburg & Brissett, 1982). Oldenburg discussed third places in the context of physical spaces, however with the development of social media, this term can now be applied to places created by people on social media platforms including Facebook groups. Third places demonstrate several characteristics including the accessibility of the third place, the equality of members, the appearance of regulars who guide the mood, and a welcoming, playful and wholesome sociability which creates the feeling of a home away from home.
Social media platforms are extremely useful ways for deaf communities to communicate during disasters and emergencies. People belonging to deaf groups online can inform and warn deaf individuals of a crisis as they may not be able to find out information through other methods such as radio broadcasts. People utilising these groups know the benefits and limitations surrounding deaf communication, such as the reliance on a visual stimulus and minimal audio input. This enables them to cater the content they wish to send to the deaf individuals in the social media groups. The users posting content may use sign language and closed captions in their posts meaning that deaf individuals can understand what is being said. Members of these groups can then share the posts by uploading them to their profile page, with other groups and across platforms, resulting in a larger network of people viewing the posts. This means that it is not just deaf people belonging to such groups who get the benefit of the deaf-friendly form of communication, individuals outside of the groups who see the posts are also informed. One such example of this can be seen in the case of the Amatrice Earthquake in Central Italy. A Facebook page was created several hours after the earthquake, providing safety information and videos on the emergency with Italian Sign Language videos, closed captions and service numbers for the viewers to understand (Rotondi et al. 2019). This Facebook group demonstrates the accessibility characteristic found in third places, where inhabitants are able to utilise and personalise the place for themselves and others without hindrance from accessibility and exclusion issues. While these online platforms enable deaf communities to communicate and support each other during emergencies, they also create a means of support and offering suggestions over everyday common issues.
The ties between individuals in the deaf community are strengthened online as many of the struggles faced by deaf individuals can be shared with others online who face the same everyday issues. This common ground enables deaf individuals to relate to one another and share support. This support extends to social media spaces, where the deaf community can partake in discussions on topics such as, “technical difficulties, coping with difficulties presented by hearing loss, … difficulties communicating with the hearing world, and rights” (Shoham & Heber, 2012). I am a profoundly deaf individual myself, and while I do use cochlear implants, I still relate to some of the common struggles in the deaf community such as not hearing alarm clocks and the infamous “I’ll tell you later” response when a deaf person asks what is being discussed. Like many in the deaf community, I personally find Facebook groups a great third place in which I can find assistance for these issues. For instance, the NDIS Assistive Technology (AT) and Equipment for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Facebook Group provides technological solutions and advice such as vibrating alarm clocks (Bucciarelli, 2020) to overcome the prevalent alarm clock problem. Furthermore, group members can request recommendations and contribute solutions to support one another through these social media groups. These genuine recommendations and heartfelt support help to create the feeling of a “home away from home” (Oldenburg & Brissett, 1982) for many deaf individuals, a characteristic commonly seen in third places. This creates a safe space within which deaf individuals can strengthen their community ties, which is not always possible with traditional communities due to their limited access to new information and suggestions as a result of their localised nature.
Online communities enable deaf individuals across the globe to unite on online platforms to inspire and motivate each other to achieve the things in their lives that they want. According to Hampton and Wellman (2018), traditional communities were hindered by the inability to physically escape from local communities due to restricting technology and transport, resulting in the lack of long-distance networks and the perseverance of close tight-knit communities. The development of social media communication technology has equipped deaf communities with the possibility of forging long-distance connections with other deaf people they know and with strangers. These thin ties still strengthen the deaf community as they give the individuals involved free reign to share their positive experiences and motivate others to do the same in a welcoming third place, no matter where they live. We can see this in the case of the Facebook group Deaf Music which “is perfect for everyone who loves to listen to music and make music videos – as long as it is in SIGN LANGUAGE” (Deaf Music, 2021). Deaf Music encourages its members to provide deaf-friendly music in many different international forms of sign language. Group members support the content creators in the posts’ comments and motivate them to continue making music. In the Deaf Music Facebook group, the equality characteristic of third places is evident as the societal and economic status of its members does not matter. Members can join the group without having to fulfil demeaning prerequisites and can post musical content without judgement from other and without the feeling of being looked down upon. Connections no longer need to be local for communities to be brought together to support and keep in contact with one another, rather ties can be formed and maintained through social media.
An issue that arose with traditional communities was the reliance on locality for individuals to maintain close ties to one another. The rise of social media has enabled persistent ties to form between people, including in the deaf community. Hampton and Wellman (2018) define persistent contact as allowing people to stay in touch with one another despite shifts in location and time. Swartz and Marchetti-Mercer (2019) use the example of a deaf woman from South Africa to portray how the use of social media such as Facebook enabled her to keep in contact with her family and maintain persistent contact with them after she migrated to Australia. The persistent connections formed on social media strengthens the ties within the deaf community as it enables them to keep in contact with one another from dispersed locations and through natural life events such as changing jobs and marriage. With these persistent contacts comes a pervasive awareness, in which social media users share their everyday activities, resulting in their followers knowing what they are doing constantly (Hampton & Wellman, 2018). This pervasive awareness further strengthens ties within the deaf community on social media as it is akin to the gossip that maintains people’s connections to each another in traditional communities, with allowances for shifts in location and time. Social media communities not only permit persistent ties to be maintained and a pervasive awareness to ensue, they also allow community members to form these ties online which can then potentially shift into the offline space.
Keeping in touch within a dispersed network of thin ties is also beneficial to social media users when they wish to meet new people with the same interests. Deaf communities are usually small, this can be seen in Australia, where there were only 11,682 individuals who could use sign language in 2016 (Deaf Australia, n.d.), compared to the 23.4 million people living in Australia in 2016 (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2017). This makes it difficult to reach out to other deaf people in a new and unfamiliar location. Social media is beneficial for deaf individuals as they can initiate thin ties with other deaf people and groups, which can lead to the creation of strong thick connections in real life. An example of this is the South West Auslan Social Facebook group that meets regularly in the MacArthur region of Sydney to socialise and maintain connections (Burrett, 2021a). A deaf individual new to the area, may join the South West Auslan Social group and attend the next organised catch up to meet other deaf people or people who can sign in AUSLAN in the area. This Facebook group presents the characteristics of a third place, such as the sociability of the space, where the participants interact democratically without the influence of personal values and biases, such as political alliances, to mar the playfulness that resides in the place. This South West Auslan Social group also presents a clear example of the characteristic of regulars who frequent the third place and influence the feel and tone of the socialising. This can be seen with the regular Raphie Burrett who organises regular in-person meet ups for the group members to attend (Burrett, 2021b). These newly formed connections between individuals in the deaf community would not be possible if the affordances of the platforms did not make communication online more accessible.
Part of making online social media platforms safe environments in which deaf communities can strengthen their ties is by making them accessible through their technical affordances. Facebook posts, stories and reels usually consist of a photo or a video in which users can perform sign language to communicate effectively. There is also the potential for content creators to insert text bubbles into their videos so that deaf viewers can follow along with what is being said. Alternatively, some posts provide the option to activate closed captions that occur in time with the audio and video (Kožuh & Debevc, 2020). Further explanations or a transcription of what is being said can also be included in the caption and comments of the post. In 2017 Facebook took a step towards becoming more accessible to deaf and hard of hearing audiences by including closed captions on live video broadcasts (Facebook, 2017). This implementation strengthens ties within the deaf community as individuals would be able to easily understand what is being said and respond more directly and immediately. The visual nature of these social media platforms means that bright and contrasting colours are frequently used, making it easier for deaf users to view the content and interact with one another. All these affordances make it easier for deaf groups to communicate with one another on social media platforms, thus strengthening the ties between people within the deaf community.
This paper has shown how valuable social media platforms, including Facebook, are as third places for the deaf community to strengthen their ties to one another. Deaf communities can provide their individuals with support in crises, advice on everyday issues not often seen in the hearing world but a commonplace feature of the deaf world, and inspiration and motivation to continue following their aspirations. These third places create a safe place for deaf communities as they furnish deaf individuals with persistent contacts as a way in which to remain in touch despite shifts in time and place. Finally, these social media platforms are accessible to deaf communities as they provide visual forms of communication which deaf individuals can utilise to communicate with one another. The characteristics of these third places, including the equality of members, accessibility of the third place, the appearance of regulars that influence the mood, and a welcoming sociability which creates the feeling of a home away from home, all work together to enable deaf members to strengthen their community ties on social media platforms. This paper is limited as it was not possible to discuss the raising of awareness around the deaf culture and community on social media platforms as it is outside the scope of the paper.
Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2017). Census of Population and Housing: Reflecting Australia – Stories from the Census, 2016 (2071.0). https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/2071.0main+features22016
Bucciarelli, M. (2020, August 5). Vibio Bluetooth Bed Shaker [Post]. Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/groups/479845172897823
Burrett, R., (2021a, March 20). Hello!!! Today is SWAS meetup. Because it is raining I have booked a table at Leumeah Pub [Post]. Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/100000510608187/videos/4511514545542188/
Burrett, R., (2021b, April 17). Hey guys, will be at a table by the pond [Post]. Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=4599230020103973&set=gm.632134880990048
Deaf Australia. (n.d.). About Deaf Australia. https://deafaustralia.org.au/about-2/about-deaf-australia/
Deaf Music. (2021, March 26). Welcome to the Deaf Music page [Post]. Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/groups/ASLmusic
Facebook. (2017). Making Facebook Live More Accessible With Closed Captions. https://about.fb.com/news/2017/06/making-facebook-live-more-accessible-with-closed-captions/?_ga=2.103410112.1325271755.1617272564-1532825367.1616039392
Hampton, K.N., & Wellman, B. (2018). Lost and Saved … Again: The Moral Panic about the Loss of Community Takes Hold of Social Media. Contemporary Sociology: A Journal of Reviews, 47(6), 643-651. https://doi-org.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/10.1177%2F0094306118805415
Kožuh, I., & Debevc, M. (2020). The Utilisation of Social Media Among Users with Hearing Loss: An Analysis of Facebook Communities. Universal Access in the Information Society, 19(3), 541-555. https://doi-org.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/10.1007/s10209-019-00658-x
Oldenburg, R., & Brissett, D. (1982). The Third Place. Qualitative Sociology, 5(4), 265-284. https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/BF00986754.pdf
Rotondi, L., Zuddas, M., Pasquale, M., & Rosati, P. (2019). A Facebook Page Created Soon After the Amatrice Earthquake for Deaf Adults and Children, Families, and Caregivers Provides an Easy Communication Tool and Social Satisfaction in Maxi-Emergencies. Prehospital and Disaster Medicine, 34(2), 137-141. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S1049023X19000086
Shoham, S., & Heber, M. (2012). Characteristics of a Virtual Community for Individuals Who Are d/Deaf and Hard of Hearing. American Annals of the Deaf, 157(3), 251-263. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26234840
Swartz, L., & Merchetti-Mercer, M. (2019). Migration, Technology and Care: What Happens to the Body? Disability and Society, 34(3), 407-420. https://doi-org.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/10.1080/09687599.2018.1519409
11 thoughts on “Strengthening Deaf Community Ties Through Social Media Platforms”
I really enjoyed reading your paper regarding the deaf community strengthening its ties through social media platforms such as Facebook. I found it really interesting learning about the unique ways that social media platforms help members of the deaf communities, particularly during disasters and emergencies. Although your main focus is Facebook, I was wondering if other Social Networking Sites would be as effective, or if Facebook is the most effective platform for members of this community. I feel like other platforms are starting to become more accessible and allow for inclusivity, would this be right to assume?
I really enjoyed reading your paper and this is a topic I’m not familiar with and have definitely gained a lot of insights from reading your paper so thank you for that.
I agree that these third places established by Facebook create a safe place for deaf communities as they are heavily reliant on reading comments and watching videos as opposed to listening which is what would happen in the physical world.
It is amazing to see the different communities that are able to be formed because of social media and how effective and how influential it can be for the individuals in the community.
I found the paragraph on deaf music very fascinating and that is something I’ve never come across before.
I noticed you’ve only focused on Facebook and my question to you is are there any other platforms that support the deaf communities.
This was a very well-researched and insightful paper! well done 🙂
Thanks for reading my paper, I’m glad you learned a little about deaf culture. It is amazing the ways humans can adapt to overcome challenges that would initially seem impossible, like deaf people playing and creating music, a hearing based hobby/profession.
I was initially going to expand into Instagram and TikTok on my paper but as I was writing I realised that Facebook alone was a large enough topic to cover the points I was trying to make and that I didn’t have the word space to include other social media platforms. Additionally, the inclusion of other platforms would have likely confused the message of the paper and made the topic of focus too broad. As I have mentioned, Instagram and TikTok are quite prominent social media platforms on which deaf individuals can strengthen their communities in the third place. You may have noticed TikTok’s implementation of the new speech-to-text effect and the use of text bubbles that are manually written by the content creators, which are deaf friendly forms of accessibility, and which I personally love. The inclusion of everyone found on Instagram and TikTok demonstrates the easy accessibility characteristic of the third place.
It is becoming more common for deaf individuals to utilise these spaces to teach others about the deaf world, through ways such as teaching sign language and sharing positive and negative experiences in their everyday lives that are common for deaf individuals, such as the struggle with lip reading with everyone wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic or teaching their baby AUSLAN.
I was really interested in your paper and the discussion on supportive third places for deaf community. I’m close to two profoundly deaf people who rely on cochlears, a child and an adult. The advances in technology even over the last decade have been incredible, and i’ve seen how adaptations and innovations have improved day-to-day life and support.
I noticed you focused on Facebook groups in your paper, are there other spaces online where the community connect? I feel like closed captions are appearing more frequently in Instagram Stories, and over on Tumblr accessibility awareness seems to be becoming more pervasive. I’m interested if you think we are collectively heading towards an accepted cultural norm for online behaviour to make content more accessible for all?
Thanks for reading my paper! It is really amazing how much technology has advanced in these last couple of decades. I have photos and videos at home from the early 2000s when I was a toddler and i’d run around with the cochlear as a pack on my back, which when compared to the current behind the ear device, you can see how much technology has improved. It would be interesting to compare the experiences and feelings towards cochlear implants of the child and adult that you are close with as they grew up in times that were very different in the acceptance of the deaf community and cochlears. Do you know how they feel about being deaf and using cochlears?
I really wanted to expand out of Facebook into areas like Instagram and TikTok in my paper but unfortunately ran out of room and thought the focus would be too broad. I do believe that technology and pressure from society is slowly making social media more accessible and not just for deaf communities, but for communities such as the blind as well. While it is not perfect, we have come a long way with enabling everyone to use social media and technology in general. We can see this in TikTok’s implementation of the text-to-speech effect and the widespread use of it by content creators to the point where it is a common occurrence for it to be used on videos.
The technology really blows my mind. The child is growing up referring to the cochlears as her ‘ears’ that she wears as a headband. She has a huge support network, and her mum has found a big supportive community online – particularly on facebook groups like you’ve mentioned in your paper. The adult is quite pragmatic about her cochlears nowadays, but definitely had more struggles and isolation growing up, being an older teenager as Web 2.0 appeared. Each upgrade in cochlear has had a huge impact – now she has ones with bluetooth that connect to her phone or music, and is able to hear more complexity and detail with every advance in technology. It really is amazing!
That’s really interesting about TikTok, i’m not on the platform so only know it abstractly. Certainly seems popular given the amount of papers on it in the conference! That was a really positive and heartening reply, thank you 🙂
It is adorable that the child calls her cochlears her ears, but it is so true because they are. It would make sense for the adult to be more apprehensive towards cochlears and using them than the child as there was quite a stigma surrounding them, especially when they were first implemented as many in the deaf community thought that they would degrade and ruin the already small deaf culture. There’s a great documentary called Sound and Fury which covers these opposing perspectives towards cochlears in detail.
I love the newest upgrade with the bluetooth to the phone as it has completely changed listening to music for me, I find it to be so much clearer through bluetooth than through a speaker.
I really enjoyed reading your paper!! I have previously studied Auslan and can wholeheartedly agree that social media can be used to inspire and assist each other to achieve their goals, without relying on the closeness of the individual.
Platforms like Twitch, Facebook etc.. rely heavily on videos and comments which would make it perfect for Deaf users to interact with each other in addition to hearing individuals without being spoken over, ignored or as you mentioned the ‘I will tell you later’ part of the conversation.
The possibility of forging connections long-distance over social media also helps with differences in dialect, I know that we use Auslan here whereas the states use ASL and England used BSL for example. While some signs can be similar with social media this gives another pathway to break these communication barriers, really cool when you think about it!
Hi Jess, thanks for reading my paper!
I have really been wanting to properly learn AUSLAN for a while but just don’t have the time to do it. It is great to see the bonds people form over social media through shared experiences and aspirations! Your comment about using similar signs for different forms of sign language is so true, it is easier to connect with people when there are similarities between dialects, much like in verbal languages, which helps people to form these connections with each other through social media more easily.
I love this discussion! It makes me think about deaf creators on TikTok who don’t use sound to emulate their daily experiences. Your paper is super interesting and really well explained!
Im glad you think so! I also love seeing how deaf Tik Tok creators use creativity and humour to help hearing individuals understand deafness and sign language while also being entertained. Have you seen the Tik Toks by Chrissy Marshall and Scarlet Watters, they’re worth a watch?