Helping or Hurting? The Role of Facebook in Building Community

Globalization is real.  Anyone from anywhere in the world could be interacting with you at any given time.  Individuals and families are moving, changing, and transitioning into different places that are not their own, stretching the bounds of normal communication, and creating friction in friendships because of the distances between them.  Because of the overwhelming number of people who move and transition in and out of our lives, our use of social media has boomed!  Facebook used to be simply a site to play games on, or chat with friends, but now it’s one of the largest and most utilized tools for networking, and communicating with anyone across the globe.  

Community can be defined as a group of people where there is growth, friendship, commonality, and a shared purpose or passion.  Our 21st century idea of this term is very different from that of people living in the 20th century.  The technology that we rely on so much everyday is ultra modern in comparison to “old fashioned” ways of keeping in touch: letter writing, telegraph, phone calls via operator, or carrier pigeon (the classic).  Online communities weren’t even a thought in the realm of possibilities.  Today, there are several types of online communities.  One that I find fascinating is Humans of New York or HONY as it is well known.  HONY is one of the best examples of a social media based community that began solely through social media.  

Online community, as community in general, is extremely important because all people have a basic need to tell stories, because not only is that the way in which life is organized, but sharing experiences creates belonging and connection.  Stories should not be looked at as separate from real life, but as forming meaningful connections WITH that life.  Just as HONY isn’t a separate life experience, but its real life and real people interacting in a new way.  Facebook (and all social media) plays a crucial role in this relationship between individuals and the world they create – it was started to connect; the whole purpose was community!

Often, we hear that computer-mediated communication (virtual friends and lives) are detrimental to communication, but many users are finding the opposite to be true.  It’s not the same as real-life communication, but it’s a new way of connecting.  On Human of New York’s Facebook page, there are 3.5 MILLION followers!  It would be impossible to be so connected to so many people if we rely solely on in-person contact and personal introductions, but because its the Internet, our ability to adapt and relate increases exponentially.  And its a good thing, too!  Last year there was story of how networking and having a large community can be a beautiful thing.  Read about what Brandon & the HONY community did for a little boy named Rumi here.  Seriously cool. 

The biggest reason for the success of online communities like HONY and others, is the strong desire for belonging, the act of sharing a story, of building a story together.  Stories help us transform the present and shape the future, what a task to take on together! When you can step out of your comfort zone, and see outside the box of your personal reality, into the lives of others, true community is formed.  It is key to be yourself, but also let others be themselves.  Through examining our differences, but using them for the benefit of the group, true, long-lasting community can be formed.  

In a globalized world, where the world is getting smaller, but people are moving farther apart, communities have been able to grow because of their newly found connectivity; you are being plugged in (literally) to relationships that are growing and easier than ever.  

What are some ways you have seen the positive impact of an online community? Are there any experiences with that that have been negative?