Recent studies have discovered a correlation between online communities and the sharing of social and emotional support (Hercheui, 2011). Online communities have proven to be sources of support in isolation during the coronavirus pandemic, as the online community atmosphere has allowed individuals to communicate with others without the health risks of joining the physical world. Online communities assisted in communicating vital information about lockdowns, immunisations, and other details (Volkmer, 2021). Relating to the idea of information sharing, there are many online communities based on real-world communities, where emergency information is shared during environmental disasters. Informally and formally, social media communities deliver quick access to public safety information immediately (Taylor et al., 2012). According to recent studies, peer-to-peer emotional support inside social media communities has been shown to create collective resilience during and after natural disasters (Volkmer, 2021). Knowledge sharing appears to be a significant element of online communities, as demonstrated by the pandemic and disaster events. Knowledge sharing within online communities, especially if the topic is not normally discussed, has been shown to improve the confidence of individuals within the group (Jin et al., 2015). Based on the evidence gathered, it is vital that we continue to analyse the ever-changing community environment, especially those on popular social networking sites such as Facebook.


Social media communities as support networks

Mingling within a community can be a beneficial experience, both in a social and informative context, due to recent events such as covid-19, online communities have proven vital in keeping members connected. The technological advancements of the twenty-first century have allowed communities to go beyond the physical limitations of the natural world but instead enter the digital space, where communities can be accessed no matter the location, circumstances, and time. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, and chat rooms are examples of social media apps that allow individuals to express and share information via the internet (Taylor et al., 2012). Social networking sites feature tools to facilitate online communities, for example, Facebook groups and messenger groups. Communities are groups of individuals who share common interests (Hercheui, 2011). For members to be accepted into online communities, they must adhere to the rules put in place by the administrators (Hercheui, 2011). Currently, online communities have been more critical than ever. With events such as the Corona Virus pandemic, online communities allow individuals to support and network with one another without the restrictions of the outside world. According to researchers, a link has been identified between positive emotions among users online activity and the sharing of social and emotional support (Hercheui, 2011), demonstrating that users feel secure and can form strong social bonds, even online. In periods of secured lockdowns and limits on individuals’ physical everyday lives, Facebook community groups, for example, facilitate immediate crisis interaction: to examine restraints, pursue emotional aid, and support one another by preserving strong social linkages, like in the case of the coronavirus pandemic (Volkmer, 2021). Online communities are also essential for geographical communities during natural disasters. Informally and formally, social media groups give access to timely public safety information as well as emotional support (Taylor et al., 2012). Online communities also serve as places to share other knowledge. Online communities’ social networking features assist users with a variety of topics and, as a result, aid in the formation of social relationships (Jin et al., 2015). Therefore, online communities allow individuals to access support and connect with others easier via social networking sites, without the limitations of the physical world.



There are many genres of online communities, such as Facebook, streaming and others. Many of these communities provide users with support networks. However for this example, Facebook in particular during the coronavirus pandemic, served as solid support network, especially during isolation. In 2020, much of the globe was forced into lockdown to prevent coronavirus spread, leaving individuals isolated and shut off from the leisure of everyday life. The physical world around us changed, and so did the internet. The online space allowed users to still communicate with one another without the risks of entering the physical world. As worded by Hampton (2016), in contrast to what can be communicated through other channels, social media provides intimacy and information exchange like no other. This value proved vital during the pandemic. Researchers have discovered a correlation between online engagement and the exchange of social and emotional support (Hercheui, 2011). Like the example of the coronavirus pandemic, in periods of strict isolation and limits on people’s physical everyday life, social media networks provide rapid crisis exchange: to discuss constraints, pursue emotional assistance, and assist one another by retaining strong social links (Volkmer, 2021). Not only do online communities provide support, but they facilitate a sense of belonging for their members, something that was lost when physical communities were shut off, but something Facebook is still able to facilitate. People invest meaning and dedication in their online communities, and virtual communities enhance the sense of belonging to collectives (Hercheui, 2011). In a similar fashion to how physical community groups invest in creating belonging environments for their members. Online groups also provided a role in helping communicate the importance of restrictions and vaccinations and promoted information (Volkmer, 2021). However, online communities risk replacing the tight-knit traditional communities of surrounding neighbours and relatives with multiple far-flung, fragmented social networks (Hampton & Wellman, 2018). The narrative of traditional physical communities is often missed, as being nostalgic, when times were ‘good’ (Hampton & Wellman, 2018). In spite of this, changing times and technology mean that communities will forever be evolving. This former idea of community is backwards. Dissatisfaction and concern with ‘losing’ the community has always been around (Hampton and Wellman, 2018). In context with online communities Hampton and Wellman’s argument is agreeable. For example, small-town communities lack open-mindedness whilst there is also dissatisfaction with online communities as it is also argued that they similarly facilitate echo chambers, just like small physical towns. During the pandemic, online communities have proven to be vital for the spread of important information, leading to how online communities serve as vital information hubs during disasters.



Many online community groups link to geographical communities, for example, a community group for alerts within a suburb. Some online community groups are explicitly made for disasters, such as ‘WA incidents and Alerts’ on Facebook, where users can access emergency information. There are different types of emergency community pages, for example, general information (road closures, information) or disaster help such as volunteer pages, lost and found, and fund-raising (Taylor et al., 2012). Social media communities provide access to public safety information in a timely fashion, both informally and formally (Taylor et al., 2012). Emotional support through peer to peer interaction within social media communities can create collective resilience during times of uncertainty (Volkmer, 2021). Sharing information within online groups enables people to remark, communicate, follow content threads, engage with crisis information, and play active roles as communicators (Volkmer, 2021). Interestingly, during Cyclone Yasi in 2012, a social media team was formed to administrate online disaster groups. The team consisted of members with specialist backgrounds in disaster information. The update team provided psychological support to frightened members impacted by cyclone Yasi (Taylor et al., 2012). According to data retrieved by Taylor et al. (2012), The cyclone Yasi update page reached 15,000 members within twenty-four hours of the page opening, then growing further to 92 299 at its peak. In terms of community resilience, community pages like the cyclone Yasi page above enhance safety, connectivity, self-and group efficacy and directly sustain the adaptive powers of information and communication while also strengthening social prosperity and community competence (Taylor et al., 2012). The Cyclone Yasi Facebook community allow real time updates by members, while also allowing users to network with each other to support other members, providing psychological aid to affected peers. However, as many positives to online community groups, there are also negatives, with both users and the mediums themselves. Taylor et al. (2012) found that users who did not find participation encouraging or beneficial were more likely to leave the community page. There is also the risk of misinformation being spread throughout online community groups. The team behind the ‘Cyclone Yasi Update’ spent a lot of time and effort correcting disinformation, debunking rumours, verifying the veracity of material, and dealing with ‘trolls’ (Taylor et al., 2012). However, overall, social media in disasters can aid in administering psychological first aid to persons impacted by catastrophes and enhance community resilience, according to data from an online poll and the experiences of the ‘Cyclone Yasi Update’ team (Taylor et al., 2012). Community groups can quickly solve issues such as trolls and misinformation through careful moderation and rules for members, creating a helpful, safe and welcoming environment online. 



Compared to a traditional community, online communities allow for much more activity in comparison to traditional physical communities. Online communities are much more diverse in members, opinions and knowledge. Not only do online communities provide support and information,  but they are also excellent sources for gaining knowledge on topics that are otherwise not discussed in the general community or are linked to a specific interest. The volume of knowledge has expanded dramatically as a result of the advancement of information technology, particularly the internet, with an increasing number of individuals being active in the process of knowledge generation and dissemination (Jin et al., 2015). Online social Q&A communities supplement traditional Q&A methods with social networking capabilities that assist users with questions subjects and, therefore, assist in forming social connections (Jin et al., 2015). Sharing opinions and positions within social media communities also causes the user to keep contributing to the community (Jin et al., 2015). Knowledge-contribution behaviours are influenced by self-presentation, other members’ acknowledgement, and possibilities for social learning (Jin et al., 2015). A negative response from an opinion shared within an online community means that the member is more likely to leave. However, social wealth is formed via interactions, which are reflected by the communication, social bonds, appreciation, admiration, faith, and friendship that members of a online community have for one another (Jin et al., 2015). Many online communities encourage users to share personal details. Members who disclose personal information find the community trustworthy, and therefore the confidence of the user is increased (Jin et al., 2015). The Cyclone Yasi Facebook community page provides a clear example of this type of interaction, as members disclosed personal trauma, while offering support to others, forming strong social bonds during an uncertain time.





Individuals who provide additional intimate details are also more likely to keep a long-term engagement with the community and submit material regularly (Jin et al., 2015). The more a person learns from others, the more inclined they are to share their expertise with others (Jin et al., 2015). According to social cognition theory, members will also react favourably to other members’ information contributions (Jin et al., 2015). Jin et al. (2015) found that social bonuses, such as acceptance, rank, and respect, become the primary motivating elements for knowledge contribution. Sharing knowledge via online communities, thus, has two positives. On the one hand, members will benefit from the knowledge of other members who have similar interests. Other members’ knowledge-contribution behaviours, on the other hand, encourage members’ knowledge-contribution goals (Jin et al., 2015). However, it is essential to note that knowledge shared within online communities can also be misinformation. Members of online communities tend to gather the knowledge that sustains their worldviews, abandon contradictory information, and appoint split communities around shared narratives (Cinelli et al., 2020). However, overall, Jin’s findings are significant, as they are demonstrated in Facebook communities daily, especially in online communities such as the cyclone Yasi community page, further proving that online communities are just as crucial as physical ones in providing social bonds and psychological support


Individuals can use social networking sites to find assistance and interact with others in communities, bypassing the limits of the real world. Social media communities were vital during the pandemic as they allowed members to seek social interaction while isolating. Studies have shown that social and emotional support through online communities has psychological benefits. Online communities also serve as vital information hubs during natural disasters. The cyclone Yasi community page example demonstrated community collaboration and resilience during the disaster. Members were able to share and discuss up to date information such as road closures, which are often not available through traditional news mediums. The cyclone Yasi page also linked community members with direct psychological help from professionals who ran the page, a critical lifeline during natural disasters. Knowledge sharing within online communities goes beyond natural disasters. Online communities facilitate safe and welcoming environments for members to share experiences and learn about subjects that are not always available in the physical world, mainly if the subject is personal or seen as ‘taboo’. Sharing knowledge with others and gaining positive feedback has been shown in studies to improve user confidence and trust, and are therefore more comfortable with sharing personal experiences within the community. Overall, online communities are not replacing traditional communities but simply using the same community values through a different medium that allows users more freedom.




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P, Zollo F, Scala A. (2020). The COVID-19 social media infodemic. Scientific Reports. 10(1), 1-10. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-73510-5


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Technologies and the Future of Community. American Behavioral Scientist, 60(1), 101–124. https://doi.org/10.1177/0002764215601714


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, 47(6), 643–651. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26585966



COMMUNITIES. Information, Communication & Society, 14, 1 – 23. https://doi.org/10.1080/13691181003663593


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communities: An empirical study of an online social Q&A community. Information & Management, 52(7), 840-849. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.im.2015.07.005.


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psychological first aid as a support to community resilience building. The Australian Journal of Emergency Management, 27(1), 20–26.https://search.informit.org/doi/10.3316/ielapa.046721101149317


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17 thoughts on “Social media communities as support networks: Empowering others during crisis situations

  1. Genevieve Dobson says:

    Hi Sienna – interesting read! I love the cyclone Yasi example you mentioned – it’s a great use of social media platforms and shows how quickly information can be assimilated in times of emergency. Creating an online community in these times, and during clean up or recovery phases afterwards, is so important to unite and support members. I assume the Facebook page no longer exists (do you know?). In some ways it’s a shame that all those connections and stories of shared experiences may be lost once the emergency is over.

    I saw in your Yasi example that the cyclone response team took control over addressing misinformation themselves, rather than potentially relying on Facebook as an organisation to do it. Obviously the Covid-19 pandemic was a far larger and global issue, but do you think Facebook did enough to try and stop the spread of health mis-information during the pandemic – to protect these online communities?

    I look forward to chatting with you more about this Sienna. I also discussed health misinformation in my paper, in the context of health promotion practice. I’d love to hear what you thought of my paper too. Here’s the link if you’d like to have a read:

    • Sienna Hardie says:

      Hi Genevieve,

      Thanks for reading. The cyclone Yasi page is still up. The page is now used mainly to promote information about climate change and serves as a memorial for remembering past disasters and casualties. It also regularly posts articles about other cyclone experiences and the effects of natural disasters on communities. I agree with your point, I think these pages need to be preserved, as they are a good way to reflect and analyse the past, to maybe see what can be done differently. I don’t believe Facebook has done enough to prevent the spread of misinformation. I believe that only giving government organisations permission to run disaster-related information pages may be a potential solution, however the area is very complex.

      • Genevieve Dobson says:

        I’m so happy to hear that the page is still up, and obviously being put to great use, especially in relation to climate change information. The way some online communities can rally together to help people in times of trouble is truly amazing, as we have seen in recent examples of fire and flood here in Australia. However I agree, they do require an overarching body or organisation to take control and regulate the activities. Otherwise we see the misinformation and also missed opportunities to align people, causes and resources. For example where people made random physical donations of food and clothing, all with good intent, but where money or more specific items were really required. And sorting through the donations prevented more productive and urgent activity from occurring.

  2. Kyriaki Taylor says:

    Hi Sienna,
    great paper – I wonder what things would be like if the pandemic happened before Web 2.0? The impact of isolation and inability to work, go to school or connect online would be tremendous!

    • Sienna Hardie says:

      Hey Kyriaki,

      I also think about that too. I believe that the anti-vax movement would not have been as powerful as it is now, as social media has allowed anyone to have a public platform and to group together easily. But I’m not so sure about the spread of misinformation. However, I agree that isolation would impact education tremendously if the pandemic was in the time before web 2.0.

      • Kyriaki Taylor says:

        totally agree! I think Mental health would be impacted even more so as without online connection, we would be even more isolated – physically and digitally!

  3. Sining Chen says:

    Hi Sienna,
    Very interesting topics! I agree with you that the online community does help people so much.
    Due to covid19 and travel restrictions abroad, I am now confined to online classes at home.The advent of the web 2.0 era helped me learn and communicate with my classmates in an online community while I was online in class.Our conferences are also made possible by the use of online communities.

    • Sienna Hardie says:

      Hi Sining,

      Thanks for reading. I like your observation of the conference as being an online community, I never thought of it from that perspective, it is a great example of one!

  4. Nadarajan Munisami says:

    Hi Sienna, interesting to read. Your examples were very well up to date. I agree that social media platforms can spread information rapidly and can help in creating online support communities. We have noticed how helpful social media platforms were recently due to the covid-19 pandemic.

    You can read my paper below:

    Thank you.

  5. Wilmer Wong Wan Po says:

    Hi Sienna,

    I totally agree with your findings on the role of online communities in supporting others during crises. From my experience, joining online communities usually happens when we find common ground in a topic, people identify themselves with. It could be a discussion about psychology or well-being in which, people voice out their concerns or views about an issue such as self-harm or anxiety. As you mentioned, online communities can reassure people by providing them the psychological support they need to get over hurdles. I guess it is because when we are part of an online community, we realise that we are not alone in our challenges, knowing that other people share the same interests or concerns; thus, we are more confident in relating our personal issues.


    • Sienna Hardie says:

      Thanks for reading Wilmer, I believe that the online space provides a wider range of niche interests in comparison to relying on physical communities too.

      • Sienna Hardie says:

        However, in the past, I have seen online groups that, for example, promote self-harm or other harmful acts. I have unfortunately come across pro-Ana (Pro anorexia) groups online, where members compete in weight loss and provide weight loss ideas. Is it possible to prevent these types of communities from forming? Should government health organisations step in, similarly to how the cyclone Yasi page was moderated?

  6. Marie Megane Noemie Desveaux says:

    Hi Sienna,
    your paper was very interesting and so easy to read. even with such a complex subject, we can easily see your point. wonderfully written. as someone who suffers from mental health, I very much can relate to your paper. I think it would such a wonderful idea. I find it easier to speak up through a phone than face-to-face.
    Amazing paper. keep up the good work.

    • Sienna Hardie says:

      Thank you for your feedback, Marie! I too, believe that the online space is a much more convenient way of communication for people who suffer from mental illness, and it’s wonderful to be a part of a community that has people who also suffer from mental illness, as it often feels like a very lonely place like no one else understands what you are going through.

  7. Hi Sienna,

    Great paper!

    I have to agree with you mentioning how researchers discovered a correlation between online engagement and the exchange of social and emotional support. From my perspective during the pandemic and all the lockdowns that Melbourne/Victoria had, I definitely relied on my friends and family to keep me entertained or distracted from all the pandemic craziness and obviously during lockdown this was done by socialising all online. Although it was great to be able to contact one another easily online, I think it has caused some social anxiety for when everyone was out of lockdown or even a low social battery. I feel like I have only just started feeling myself again when socialising in person with friends and family (referring to my social battery).

    Anyways, interesting paper, I enjoyed reading it.


    • Sienna Hardie says:

      I totally agree Alani, being able to stay connected during the pandemic through online communities was a lifesaver for me. But I definitely struggled with anxiety around socialising once the lockdowns were over. It was almost like I had completely forgotten my social skills. It would be interesting to see more research into this.

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