By: Malinda Hadiwidjojo 460288581
Lecture: Fiona Andreallo, Thursday 12-3pm
In this essay, we will lightly touch on the explanation behind online communities, before looking at three examples to attest how distinctive these communities can be. Furthermore, we will elaborate the rules and guidelines online.
In their book, Hinton and Hjorth (2013) stated that Howard Rheingold popularised the idea of virtual communities back in 1993. His book mentioned that online communities were seen as escapism from the real world – a social isolation – but many saw its potential to be a new space for social interaction. A research conducted by Preece et al. (2003) discussed that over the years, the amount of users in online communities increased tremendously. They mentioned that ‘the internet provides virtual “third places” that allow people to hang out and engange in activities with others’.
Just like in the offline world there are countless of different communities available online, catered to each interest and serving various purposes accordingly, which brings us to the next part: examples of Facebook communities.
Catspotting is a closed group on Facebook where members can share cats that they encountered in unexpected places, or ‘catspot’ as they call it. It is unclear when it started but as of today, the group has nearly 93,000 members globally, all sharing a common interest: cats.
Due to its growing audience and interest around it, the group has branched out onto Instagram where they post the best catspots, now with over 1,900 followers and a post count hitting almost 500.
Although the group is specifically for catspots, it is not uncommon for some members to ask questions about cats when they do not know where to go, for instance on how to take care of a stray kitten that they just rescued and are planning to keep. With so many passionate cat lovers, experienced owners, and vets within the group, it is rare for these questions to go unnoticed and ignored – everyone provides answers and guidelines to someone who needs it. Unfortunately, an example of this situation cannot be provided since similar posts have been buried under the multiple posts that have been shared.
Jakarta Feminist Discussion Group (JFDG)
In a country where feminism is still considered taboo by many due to rising conservatism in the majority of the population alongside the society’s strong patriarchal mindset (Sidarto 2017), JFDG was created as a safe space where its members can discuss and share feminist issues. As of today, the closed group has 1,800 members based in and/or from Jakarta that makes it a more local community compared to Catspotting. Some members knew each other offline whereas many became friends through this group.
Members participate in the exchange by sharing articles, videos, images, Facebook posts, and so on, which can spark discussion within the group. With this group’s purpose, users can speak their mind and debate healthily; something that can be difficult to execute in random internet spaces where the possibility of not being taken seriously by ‘trolls’ is high.
Their interaction is not limited to within the internet – it is not uncommon for them to conduct events such as meet-ups and book clubs where members can get together in real life.
what if phones, but too much
This group was created under a much lighter intention than JFDG that is sharing images that shun technology, particularly phones (although computers and social media are also acceptable), which they find funny. Sometimes they post satirical memes as well. At the moment, the group almost has 14,500 members.
Unlike the previous Facebook communities, there is not much discussion going on in this group because they simply bond over technology-hating memes. From observation, there are two main reasons why the members find humour in these posts:
- Irony – the people behind the illustrations and memes share their post in social media, complaining about social media and smartphones, through their smartphones (or other devices they may utilise).
- Technology will never stop growing no matter how hard humans try, but many are still stuck in the idea that their generation is the best due to the lack of internet use they were exposed to when they were younger, hence the technology-hating memes.
Though these communities serve vastly distinctive purposes, they are established because of the same reason: common interest, similar to how communities in real life are formed. In these groups, it does not matter if a member would like to remain anonymous – it is not unusual for someone to create a fake Facebook or social media profile without intending to scam others, but simply to preserve their privacy – but rules and community guidelines still apply, just like in the offline world, although it is clearly stated unlike in real life where it is merely assumed.
In their book ‘Building Successful Online Communities: Evidence-Based Social Design’, Kraut et al. (2012) mentioned that there are four elements that regulate online behaviour, which are laws, norms, markets, and technology. They also stated that when an off-topic conversation arises, people are less likely to insist to talk about it in its original post when it is redirected to a more appropriate forum. In Catspotting’s case, when someone posts their own cat, administrators or other members often point them to another relevant group after reminding them of the rules.
When members violate these rules and sometimes even upset others in the process, administrators of the group remind the person of the rules and disable comments for the inappropriate post, or even deleting it. This proves that even online, there are consequences to an action that should be taken seriously.
Application to social media project
The idea of how virtual communities bring people together (online and offline) was applied to our social media project where we aimed to attract a younger audience to attend the Greenway Series at the Con.
Our strategies revolved around how to create more user engagement across the Con’s social media networks (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube), which included sharing of tasteful images and funny memes, directly interacting with audience by replying to their comments, using open-ended questions to spark a discussion, and implementing hashtags to generate more exposure.
When the strategies are successfully executed, a community is formed, thus more people go to the Greenway Series. Although the goal of the project is achieved, there is no reason to terminate the strategies because it is important to maintain the objective.
Hinton, Sam, & Hjorth, Larissa. (2013). Social Network Sites Understanding Social Media (pp. 32 – 54). London: SAGE Publications Ltd.
Kraut, Robert E., Kiesler, Sara, Resnick, Paul. (2012). Building Successful Online Communities: Evidence-Based Social Design. Cambridge Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
Preece, Jenny, Maloney-Krichmar, Diane, Abras, Chadia. (2003) History and emergence of online communities. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.118.244&rep=rep1&type=pdf
Sidarto, Linawati. (2017) ‘Feminism in Indonesia is under siege by Muslim conservatives’. The Jakarta Post. http://www.thejakartapost.com/life/2017/03/08/feminism-in-indonesia-under-siege-by-muslim-conservatives.html