Online communities exist for everything from hobbies and shared interests to political views. Whether on social media, through email, or an online forum, these communities come together due to a common interest.
Anyone who’s friends with more than one person on Facebook has seen that the social media giant is a hotbed of passionate opinions. Some days you can scarcely look through your newsfeed without seeing a rolling list of people speaking out on topics they hold dear.
These instances are often disjointed rantings or one-time expressions of an emotion such as anger or disappointment. However, can an online community ever work to bring about real change in the world?
“Yes, We Can”
You don’t have to be a politics junkie to realize the effect Barack Obama’s internet campaign had on the 2008 elections. Noted publisher Ariana Huffington of The Huffington Post was quoted in a New York Times article shortly after the 2008 election that were it not for the Internet, Barack Obama would not have won the democratic nomination or the presidency.
Does that constitute “real change?” For President Obama, online communities, bonded together over shared ideas and values certainly made a difference.
Among his innovative techniques:
1. Viral Video: He utilized a free Youtube channel to spread his message, compared to the nearly $50 million price tag traditional television advertising would have cost for the same amount of views.
2. Owning Social Media: The hashtags #yeswecan, #Barackthevote, and #Obama2016 helped organize and galvanize supporters who were ready to learn and participate in politics in an online forum.
The lasting effects may not yet be fully realized, however what can’t be denied is that online communities were instrumental in electing a man to a major political office. If that weren’t news-worthy enough, the man also happened to be the nation’s first African-American to hold that office.
If that isn’t an example of a major change with social implications, few things would be.
Improving Society Through Community
Consider Habitat Jam , a massive online event organized through cooperation by IBM, The United Nations, and the Canadian government. This event was held in December of 2005 and included tens of thousands of participants from private citizens to non-profit organizations and corporations.
The goal of Habitat Jam was to source solutions to the growing problems with overpopulation in the world’s major cities. This marked the first time a large scale, open forum discussion was undertaken with participants from across the world.
What’s more, the event was legitimized even further by the involvement of two major organizations and a major world government. The result was over 600 ideas were generated, including 70 actionable ideas that were copied, summarized, and distributed around the world.
Speaking of Making a Real Difference
TES Global is a large and active online community of teachers that is committed to connecting educators with meaningful resources to support them. With over 8 million registered users in over twenty countries, TES is one of the largest active professional network communities. Their mission, “to support the world’s teachers,” is fulfilled through a variety of professional resources including blogs, articles, career development and guidance, podcasts, lesson plan resources, and more.
When it comes to making a difference in the real world, you needn’t look further than the world’s largest online community of teachers. The resources and support they provide directly affect the world’s educational community.
Online communities are indeed changing the world, but what may be more important is they are changing the way we interact with the world. As communities continue to grow, their reach and ability to touch our lives and the lives of others will continue as well.