What is your community? Is it the neighborhood in which you live? Is it your group of coworkers? Is it your family and friends? What happens if you have none of these? Some argue that being isolated without community interaction is an unfortunate, lonely existence. You might wonder how anyone can survive without the support of friendship or community. It just so happens that even the most isolated of individuals is never really alone if they simply turn to the World Wide Web.
There have been many arguments that social media is disrupting our ability to connect in the physical world. As a matter of fact, I have written about the detrimental effects of social media on intimate relationships. However, social media can also have a positive effect on even the most isolated of individuals. The findings from Hampton, Sessions and Her (2011) suggest that, of 2,500 surveyed Americans, those who had a presence on social media had more close confidants that those who do not participate on social media (as cited in Hampton, 2012). Furthermore, although we may average fewer intimate relationships than 20 years ago (Hampton, 2012), our support group has expanded because of social media. But can we really claim a community of support in a virtual world?
A recent broadcast from ABC News (2016) confirms that yes, we can. The latest trend in social media is the online community. Schneider, Gruman and Coutts (2012) explain that there are four elements contributing to a positive sense of community: membership, influence, shared values, and a shared emotional connection. ABC News (2016) highlighted the community of a newly developing online sorority, known simply as Girls’ Night In. This online sorority is an exclusive, membership only group of women who have come together in a virtual world to provide a sense of community no matter where one resides in the world. This sorority adheres to all of the community criteria set forth by Schneider et al. (2012). They have strict, exclusive membership requirements, in that each new member must be nominated by three veteran women, and subsequently researched and deemed worthy of admission. They carry influence over each other, in that each member is evaluated by the entire group based on her various posts. Their shared values carry over from member to member through their strict nomination process. Finally, their shared emotional connection carries on through supportive posts that range from acceptance of an outfit choice to the need for physical community, when members in a common region can be called upon to rally together at a designated location for Girls’ Night In.
This particular sorority is just one of many exclusive membership groups becoming established through social media. These blossoming online communities are not widely common as of yet, but provide a beautiful alternative to the relationship-damaging effects that we have seen from social media in the past. It is not difficult to imagine that, given time, these virtual communities may dominate our society.
ABC News. (2016, March 28). Inside ‘Girls Night In,’ the exclusive all-female digital club. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/inside-girls-night-exclusive-female-digital-club/story?id=37974468
Hampton, K. (2012, June 18). Social media as community. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2012/02/12/the-advantages-and-disadvantages-of-living-alone/social-media-as-community
Hampton, K. M., Sessions, L. F., & Her, E. J. (2011). Core networks, social isolation, and new media: How Internet and mobile phone use is related to network size and diversity. Information, Communication & Society,14(1), 130-155. doi:10.1080/1369118X.2010.513417
Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (2012). Applied social psychology: Understanding and addressing social and practical problems. Los Angeles: Sage.