the dark side of communities

Communities play a significant role in how we relate to others and perceive ourselves. I am a member of several online communities and manage one myself — the perpetual beta coffee club. Communities are more than social networks. Our open social networks may be great places for serendipitous connections but they are not safe places to have deeper conversations or to expose our points of view. Communities of practice, which are often short-term,  can provide the connective space between long-term loose social networks and temporary work teams. Communities are connectors. They are essential. We all need an inner circle to support our learning and make sense of our experiences. 

learning is the work


However, there is a dark side to networks — they can incubate constant outrage or become petri dishes for hate.

There is also a dark side to communities  — they can strengthen bias and help hate groups to not just form but take action.

Charlottesville was planned on Facebook,” [Professor] Squire [Elon University] said. “Extremists are definitely using Facebook groups to plan physical, real-world events or just to make their lives a little smaller, to find friends.” —Reveal News

Communities can reinforce prejudice.

“[Professor] Crothers [Illinois State University], who has spent hundreds of hours alongside law enforcement officers researching another book, said the very nature of police work can make officers susceptible to conspiracy theories. Cops are being lied to constantly, he said, both by the civilians they have to deal with every day and often by the departments for which they work. In the end, he said, it can become hard to separate fact from fiction.” —Reveal News

Large communities can make hate socially acceptable.

The majority of U.S. hate crimes motivated by religious bias are anti-Semitic, and Reveal’s investigation found plenty of anti-Semitic activity in private groups. But the public nature of the Islamophobic activity on the platform resonates with Squire’s observation from years of monitoring Facebook: that anti-Muslim hate speech is “the last accepted form of bigotry in America.” —Reveal News

Seb Paquet noted that social media enable “ridiculously easy group-forming”. Not all groups are for the good of society. Not all communities are there to promote democracy. We should all be aware of the dark sides of communities.

3 Responses to “the dark side of communities”

    • Harold Jarche

      Thank you, Ton. Keeping the community connected to society, and not functioning as a private, secret group, makes a lot of sense.

  1. Frances Bell

    It’s also worth thinking about the modes of communication within “communities” – members simultaneously communicating in more public areas whilst engaging in back-channels (Twitter DM , Messenger, etc) that can be good and bad. Of course with social media this communication is not the only effect as platforms will feed data from backchannels into all channels.


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