How Social Media has had a positive influence on community and broadened communication across communities.
This paper aims to illustrate just a few of the positive influences social media technologies have had thus far on communities by bringing people together for open discussions and sharing of interests and ideals through political activism, creation of online communities and strengthening relationships with family and friends. By concentrating on the positive aspects of social media technologies on communities this paper attempts to instill confidence and enthusiasm to all those using social media platforms but especially those who may be a little hesitant in embracing the full potential social media has to offer.
Communities have existed from the dawn of mankind and have continuously evolved with advancements in industry and technology. Communities have developed over time from small close-knit groups where everyone knew each other intimately to the vast communities of today where members can global. Social media has contributed positively to the fostering of strong communities, creating diverse and widespread networks and feelings of belonging within those communities by allowing people to communicate freely on multiple levels through a simple and efficient means of communication. In this regard social media could be seen to have opened up channels of communication to users from all ‘walks of life’.
Before beginning this paper it is noted that there are numerous articles, journals, books etc. arguing for and against the effects of social media on communities but this paper will concentrate on some of the specific positive influences social media has and is having on communities through political activism, creation of online communities and enhanced relationships with family and friends.
Brief History of Communities
Communities have always existed it is just their structure that has changed, developed along with the times. Early communities, referred to as “Preindustrial Communities” by Hampton (2016), were relatively small, tight, close-knit communities with extremely limited diversity and a very limited number of social ties. Hampton and Wellman (2018) describe these early communities as consisting mainly of family, friends and neighbors with strong connections. Wellman (2001) defined these communities as being restricted to the “interactions that could take place between households that could travel the relatively short distance for ‘door-to-door’ interaction” (p. 228).
With the onset of industrialization community structure was able to diversify due largely to population transitioning from rural areas to urban cities and “escaping the domination of small, social circles that typified early community life” (Hampton K, 2016, p.107). As the population became more mobile and able to travel greater distances “it was possible to maintain relationships beyond those that could be achieved by door-to-door contact alone” (Hampton K, 2016, p.107). In addition to increased mobility, communication technologies were also developing to the point “where communication was instantaneous and increasingly free from boundaries” (Hampton K, 2016, p.107) particularly the telephone. These developing technologies allowed communities to communicate over far greater distances and diversify their activities encompassing a much wider variety of interests, enabling communities to engage in more social communication.
In more recent times there have been some gigantic leaps forward in communication technologies which have redefined community and facilitated expansion of some communities on a global scale. It is through these developing technologies that social media has emerged, allowing people to transform the way they maintain or create new relationships and interact with others within their community. It is the positive influences that this social media phenomenon has had and continues to have on communities and their structure that will be focused on in this paper.
With the continued advancements in digital technologies, especially within social media, they have opened up a plethora of communication channels available to political activists who can now access not just local but national and global communities to further their causes. Delanty (2018) puts it succinctly when writing that social media “are among the most social forms of technology ever devised; they have eliminated the distance which all previous communication technologies required and given rise to new opportunities for mass political mobilization” (p. 203). In recent years the US political parties in particular have relied heavily on social media to contact their community of political supporters. Both Obama and Trump ran extremely successful social media campaigns. “The result was the building of a national collective identity around a sense of community as a shared collective purpose” (Delanty G, 2018, p.204). Social media is a far more cost effective and speedier method of spreading a political message than the more traditional modes of communicating such messages which is why it has become such an important weapon in the arsenal of many a political party.
The vastness of social media allows for those less fortunate within the community, who otherwise may not have a voice, to shine a spotlight on relevant issues and gather support. Delanty (2018) suggests that social media, “can be a valuable resource for social movements offering an affordable, flexible and informal medium for trans-border communications” (p. 217). Once the community at large is made aware of particular issues put forward by these “marginalized voices” (Delanty G, 2018, p.217), these issues can then be discussed, deliberated over and even protested about if enough support is gained in the greater public community.
A prime example of social media being used to inform communities and instill political change was within the political movements of the Arab Spring. Hussain and Howard (2016) described it as “people sharing an interest in democracy built extensive networks and activated collective action movements for political change” (p. 1). Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter were used to spread ideas and generate support across a diverse community in order to try out “new strategies as events took place on the ground” (Hussain M & Howard P, 2016, p.21). It was this community support gained through social media that enabled the success of the major street protests and laid the foundation political change. The Arab Spring uprisings were a milestone for the use of social media in political activism. It allowed the community to “consume political content” and “created a sense of shared grievances, and strong political efficacy that had not led to such sizable, diverse and quick mobilization before the Arab Spring” (Hussain M & Howard P, 2016, p.21). Facebook and Twitter played a pivotal role in giving Egyptians access to “political discussion across vast social networks” (Hussain M & Howard P, 2016, p.4) which enabled political activists to better co-ordinate protests with great success. It was the extensive use of Twitter that first spread the news of the protests in Egypt with the outside world.
Social media continues to play an intrinsic role in political campaigns, whether they be for individuals or parties in elections, or important issues being aired in public to ensure community awareness, and will remain a crucial tool for political activism for some time to come.
With the ever increasing popularity of social media more and more people are finding like-minded individuals online and forming social clubs and groups based around similar interests, hobbies, opinions and ideas which fosters a traditional sense of community and are not bound by locality or distance. Hampton and Wellman (2003) describe this phenomenon as community fragmenting “into new virtual realities of shared interest” (p.277). They go even further by suggesting that
“Internet utopians have been enthralled at the community-expanding possibilities of online connectivity. They contend that the Internet has created a whole new form of community, the ‘virtual community’, which frees communications from the constraints of geographical proximity and social characteristics such as race, ethnicity, gender and socioeconomic status” (Hampton K, & Wellman B, 2003, p. 281).
Social media is littered with groups of people discussing topics of interest, through mediums that did not previously exist. Social media has provided Internet users with exciting and effective new ways to communicate. Fostering new relationships in this way enables total strangers to connect and converse with others creating a wonderful sense of community with the real possibility of forming “new, long-term social ties” (Hampton K, Sessions L, & Ja Her E, 2011, p.134). Social media applications like Facebook offer the socially isolated immense possibilities to connect online through these social groups via conversation, photos, video, etc. giving them a sense of belonging, friendship and to a certain extent support if needed. Delanty (2018) describes these social groups as virtual communities and “that their distinctive nature consists in their ability to make communication the essential feature of belonging” (p. 201).
One of the most important aspects of a community is that feeling of belonging to something special, sharing ideas and feelings which in turn strengthens friendships and bonds between contacts which no longer has to be defined by locale but rather “as a system of social relations” (Delanty G, 2018, p.214) facilitated through social media. These new technologies are “producing communities of similarities” (Delanty G, 2018, p.214) where people are congregating and having discussions relating to subjects of personal choice and based around similar cultures, enhancing feelings of belonging and togetherness which are the foundations of a strong community.
Another feature of a strong community according to Ray Oldenburg (1999) is the importance of having somewhere other than work or home to meet and enjoy common interests, share ideas, have fun and be sociable, which he refers to as a ‘third place’. He lists some of the characteristics of a ‘third place’ as being a “social leveler or a level playing field for participants” (Lukito Y, & Xenia A, 2017, p.2) where they can feel comfortable and converse at will, “conversation is the main activity”, (Lukito Y, & Xenia A, 2017, p.2), it must be accessible and accommodating, accepting of anyone who wants to join in and should convey a feeling of comfort and familiarity. Oldenburg was referring to physical places such as cafes, halls or other meeting places within local neighborhoods but now scholars such as Lukito and Xenia (2017) are referring to social media platforms in the same light as safe ‘third places’ for people to meet, have meaningful interaction with like-minded individuals and create social groups based on similar interests, which generate those feelings of belonging, acceptance and friendship that make for a strong online community.
Relationships / Contacts
Communities develop and evolve over time just as do the people within those communities, making and losing contact with friends and family through varying stages of life due to a number of circumstances but social media has now made it much easier to keep so many more of the relationships that would have fallen by the wayside before the advent of social media, in turn strengthening support and belonging within the community. Social relationships are forever changing through primary and secondary school, university, different jobs, marriage, travel, etc. and previously many of the contacts made along the journey of life would be lost but social media has introduced a far easier and more efficient means of communication allowing people to remain in contact with those “significant others” as described by Burke and Kraut (2014). Hampton and Wellman (2018) wrote that technologies like social media (Facebook) have enabled “people to sustain contact without substantially drawing from the time and resources required to maintain ties through other channels of communication” (p.647), backing the point that it is now easier and requires less effort to remain in contact with a larger number of family and friends, leading to a diversification of an individual’s core networks, increasing the number of closer ties within those networks and greater support in times of need, enhancing the feelings of safety and belonging within a community. Many scholars including Burke and Kraut (2014, Hampton and Wellman (2018) and Delanty (2018) believe that social media, in particular platforms such as Facebook are an integral tool within the arsenal of communication channels between family and friends.
One particular group within the community that has benefited from the ease of use of social media are older adults who can quite often feel left out, alone or feel a hindrance to their families and friends rather than the important role models and nurturers they most often prove to be. Social media has given this group within the community a new lease on life and many are grasping this opportunity with both hands and flourishing.
Scholars like Wang, Zhang and Wellman (2018) and Siibak and Tamme (2013) conducted studies which involved interviewing older adults and discussing their use of social media. Both these studies reiterated the point made earlier that social media has been of great benefit to older adults in the community. Wang, Zhang and Wellman (2018) concluded that these new technologies “expanded the geographical reach of the older adults’ social networks, facilitated communication with peers and younger generations, helped organize social and group events, promoted diversity and augmented the exchange of social support” (p.692). Siibak and Tamme (2013) made a number of important observations regarding older adults including that social media (Facebook) “had enabled then to reconnect and socialize with members of the extended families and long-lost relatives” (p.78) as well as realizing that “the feeling of closeness that web-based communication channels was crucial, especially for those members who lived far away and hence did not get to see their loved ones often” (p.78). Very simply, social media has allowed older adults to feel connected, appreciated and welcome in their families and friend’s lives leading to a strong sense of wellbeing and belonging and according to Yuan et al (2015) will “have a profound impact on their general quality of life” (p.1). By giving people the option of broadening their contact networks social media has enhanced people’s feelings of connectedness and belonging which can only strengthen the community as a whole.
Communication technologies have made significant advancements in recent years developing social media platforms that have created faster, easier and more efficient means of communication. Social media has brought people together from all across the globe, uniting those with common interests, political beliefs or simply bring families and friends closer together. The use of social media platforms has instilled feelings of connectedness, safety and belonging amongst those availing themselves of this technology which has strengthened and empowered community networks on a global basis.
Burke, M., & Kraut, R. (2014, April). Growing closer on Facebook: Changes in tie strength through social network site use. Paper presented at the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Delanty, G. (2018). Virtual Community: Belonging as Communication (Chapter9). Community 3rd edition. Routledge.
Hampton, Keith N. 2011. ‘‘Internet as a Leveler between Advantaged and Disadvantaged Communities.’’ Pp. 205–10 in Public Sociology: Research, Action, and Change, edited by P. Nyden, L. Hossfeld, and G. Nyden. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.
Hampton, K. N. (2016). Persistent and Pervasive Community: New Communication Technologies and the Future of Community. American Behavioural Scientist. 61(1), 101-124.
Hampton, K. N., Sessions, L., & Ja Her, E. (2011). Core networks, social isolation, and new media: Internet and mobile phone use, network size, and diversity. Information, Communication & Society, 14, 130-155.
Hampton, Keith N., and Barry Wellman. 2003. ‘‘Neighboring in Netville: How the Internet Supports Community and Social Capital in a Wired Suburb.’’ City and Community 2:277– 311.
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.37(6), 643-651.
Hussain, M. M., & Howard, P. N. (2013). What best explains successful protest cascades? ICTs and the fuzzy causes of the Arab spring. International Studies Review, 15, 48-66.
Lukito, Y. N., & Xenia, A. P. 2017. Café as third place and the creation Of a unique space of interaction in UI Campus. IOP Conference Series: Earth and Environmental Science 99. Doi: 10.1088/1755-1315/99/1/012028
Wang, Hua, Renwen Zhang, and Barry Wellman. 2018. ‘‘Are Older Adults Networked Individuals? Insights from East Yorkers’ Network Structure, Relational Autonomy, and Digital Media Use.’’ Information, Communication & Society 21:681–96.
Wellman, Barry. 1979. ‘‘The Community Question.’’ American Journal of Sociology 84:1201–31.
Siibak, A., & Tamme, V. (2013). Who introduced granny to Facebook? An exploration of everyday family interactions in web-based communication environments. Northern Lights: Film & Media Studies Yearbook, 11, 71-89.
Yuan, Shupei, Syed A. Hussain, Kayla D. Hales, and Shelia R. Cotten. 2016. ‘‘What Do They Like? Communication Preferences and Patterns of Older Adults in the United States: The Role of Technology.’’ Educational Gerontology 42:163–74.
14 thoughts on “How Social Media has had a positive influence on community and broadened communication across communities.”
I agree that social media is a significant evolution in how we communicate and form communities. It eliminates the time and distance barriers traditional forms of media are subjected to and allows more diverse groups of people to participate on a global level.
However, I think in the area of politics, social media platforms can be a double edged sword. I agree they provide an efficient platform to communicate with voters but where this is used to purposefully spread false information or mislead people, it could potentially lead to real world harm. There are many examples of COVID-19 misinformation from political sources before social media platforms began fact checking high profile COVID-19 posts. This misinformation has a worlwide reach, and in the case of COVID-19, undermines evidence based public health advice to reduce the spread of a global pandemic.
I would also add, there is potential to undermine political processes such as elections. The 2016 US election revealed foreign interference from social media accounts linked to Russia and the 2020 US election resulted in a riot organised on social media. The role social media companies play when these events occur is debatable, and I imagine it is difficult for social media companies to draw a line between a free and open internet and some degree of censorship to protect users on their platforms.
This was a very interesting read and a well researched paper.
I’ve really enjoyed reading your paper, and I agree that social media has created a major impact in creating and extending communities online.
Do you think social media can create a misunderstanding between the users through text which can lead to arguments? by misunderstanding through text, what I meant is expressing emotions on chat is different from face to face, which then can lead to assumptions or misunderstanding.
If you have time, feel free to read my paper regarding how social media can help individuals with mental illness: https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2021/2021/04/28/how-social-media-such-as-twitter-and-discord-can-help-individuals-with-mental-illness-and-build-communities-online/
This was a very well-researched and well-written piece of writing which I really enjoyed reading. It’s great to see that your paper focuses on the positives of social media as opposed to the negatives. As social media is somewhat a toxic environment, especially for children, there is an immense amount of benefits of using social media which is important to acknowledge and you have highlighted them in your essay.
I particularly liked how you introduced concepts such as the ‘third place’ and how you have acknowledged that social media is forever evolving, thereby, including more tools that allow our society to excel.
You bring up some really valid arguments on how social media allows for better communication and relationships with communities located in other regional areas. This is particularly beneficial today due to Covid as we are restricted from meeting up with friends and families, we rely on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram to keep in touch and connected to our friends and the outside world. This advantage brought by social media has also established a concept I’d like to introduce of the ‘global village’ where it has become evident that our world has shrunk, in the sense that, we are able to keep close contact with everyone despite geographical boundaries.
As you’ve mentioned, social media has fueled online activism and this has become extremely evident through movements like Metoo and the BLM. This has become an important and much-needed contemporary issue that needed to be brought to light due to the many unfortunate incidents in our society.
I also somewhat agree with your point on ‘how social media has allowed the older generation to keep connected with their communities as well. This allows the older generation to keep in touch with their friends from school whom they have not met or spoken to in 50+ years. I’ve seen this happen with my grandmother where she used social media to locate an old friend from school and they have reconnected and are now in touch regularly because of social media.
With all the positive influence social media has on its users. Do you think the positives outweigh the negative impacts of social media?
I look forward to hearing from you soon!
Again, this was a great essay! 🙂
I agree that social media has definitely become a catalyst towards the formation of communities online as well as in person. They have definitely created more political activism in a way that is able to involve everyone and the online world is extremely accessible. I would also argue that there has been a rise in social activism as well.
These communities are crucial as you said because they do create a sense of belonging which is what a community is all about. What do you think has caused this?
Thank you very much for taking the time to read my paper and give me some feedback.
Communities are such an important part of life, that feeling of safety, belonging, knowing you can make a difference and help others and build relationships and friendships. As you know Lauren, communities have been around forever in some shape or form but never have they had the accessibility the internet and social media platforms has offered to create communities on a global basis. We have seen communities come together over a common interest that have attracted members from all walks of life around the world and the internet and social media platforms have created that space making this possible. Recently the Black Lives Matter movement is a perfect example.
Also, online communities can be as open or as closed as its members want it to be so that many people who are not so confident with face-to-face meetings can feel safe and be around like minded individuals and feel part of a community that they may otherwise never really experience.
Social media platforms have made it extremely easy for any user to create an online group based around anything at all and invite others to join and foster a sense of community that can emanate across continents. I think it’s the ease of use and simplicity that has made social media platforms so popular and enabled online communities to thrive in this space.
Thanks again for your comments Lauren and have a wonderful day.
Thank you for your reply.
This may be me having my eyes closed to the world but I think that communities became properly acknowledged when they began to form online. This may be due to the niche in each community being more clear online. The Black Lives Matter movement was a fantastic example of a large community as it involved people, as you said, from many walks of life and had people from all over the world involved which I think what a community is all about. Would you argue that most communities begin online nowadays and then branch out in person? The ease of the internet has become an efficient way to do so rather than putting posters around a small area where it doesn’t reach many people.
your conference paper is well written , I agree with a lot of points for example when you highlight the fact that social media had a great impact on communities. In the contemporary world, social media plays such an important role, thus people need to adapt to all the changes that come with technology. I hardly agree with what your paper reflects and I really enjoyed reading it.
If you are interested, you can have a read as I discuss on ”The Black Lives Matter movement on Twitter has socially and politically strengthened the Afro-American community with the use of hashtags.”
I would greatly appreciate any feedback.
I really appreciate you taking the time to read my paper and giving me some feedback.
It’s a very good point you make regarding people needing to adapt to change and become more accepting of these new technologies as they become part of everyday life.
Social media platforms can be such a powerful tool for people to use in portraying their message just as you refer to in your paper regarding the Black Lives Matter movement and their use of Twitter to strengthen the African-American community across the USA.
Thank you Anne-Marie and have a great conference.
Hi Bernard, this was such an insightful piece.
I do agree that social media had a positive influence on communities. I believe online communities are a new extension of modern community-building which is a transformation resulting from the rise of the internet.
There were quick judgements at first about how the internet is failing the sense of community and how it is a threat. Human beings, however, can be scared of changes that are not negative at the end of the day and I see your paper reflected that.
Thank you for such an interesting paper.
Feel free to read my paper as I discuss Social Commentary YouTube as a community being a force which can help social activism online.
I would love to have your take on it.
Thankyou Elodie for reading my paper and for leaving your comments.
Yes, you are right in saying social media came in for a lot of criticism about how it was destroying communities and many still believe it is detrimental to society but now after many years of development and successful upgrades it has drastically improved. Nowadays social media is seen as providing a great number of positives and benefits for many individuals, groups and movements, bringing awareness to the public and a feeling of safety and belonging to those who look for it in virtual/online communities as discussed in a number of conference papers.
Thanks again Elodie and I hope you are enjoying the conference.
Your paper was a great read. You often don’t see content out there with the positive insights of social media and technologies. Although I agree with you to a certain extent. Without the rise and advancement of social media and technology we wouldn’t be where we are today. Especially in times like the present where face to face communication has been hindered massively, which leaves social media becoming our first form of human communication/interaction. Though I am sure you can also agree social media also plays a role in setting back human development, particularly in children.
I also wanted to note in the section where you talk about older communities use of social media. From my personal account I have found that the older people in my life tend to use social media less than the younger generation. I was actually talking to someone recently that falls within the ‘older’ community category and they told me that they are actually beginning to use social media as a communication tool less and less. This is due to the fact that it is rapidly changing, leaving it too hard for them to catch up or stay on top of the updates. But again, that is only in my experience! It is definitely something that ranges in different people.
Overall, I really enjoyed reading your paper and gaining an alternative insight on a topic that tends to usually be flooded with the negative effects.
Thank you very much for taking the time to read my paper and the feedback you have provided. You are correct in saying that this topic quite often generates a great deal of negativity and one of those drawbacks is the effect social media is having on the younger generation with too much time spent online and not enough face-to-face interaction.
It is also true that many of the older generation do appear to be using social media less and less as a communication tool as they do find it difficult to keep up with the constant advancements with these technologies. It won’t be too long though that we arrive at the point where all generations will have grown up experiencing these technologies and they will be second nature to everyone.
Thanks again Em for your comments.
Your paper was an interesting read and highlighted a lot of relevant points relating to social media and communities. Although social media can have some detrimental effects on those who use it, it is evident that it has many beneficial outcomes, which proved particularly true within the last year, with a strong reliance on digital and social media platforms for communication.
I particularly loved your statement, “Social media applications like Facebook offer the socially isolated immense possibilities to connect online through these social groups via conversation, photos, video, etc. giving them a sense of belonging, friendship and to a certain extent support if needed.” My paper touched on this issue as well, in regards to forming online communities through Facebook for Australians living abroad. If you are interested, you can have a read. I would greatly appreciate any feedback.
Thank you again for sharing your insights!
Thank you very much for taking the time to read through my paper and I really appreciate the positive feedback. I made a conscious effort to try to concentrate on the positive aspects of social media and the effects it has had on communities. You are 100% correct in mentioning the detrimental effects social media has had on some users and I’m sure there are other papers in this conference that will point out some of those negative effects.
I will definitely download your paper and look forward to reading it as you mentioned it concentrates on similar issues to my own.
Thanks again Rebecca and I hope you enjoy the conference.