What makes for community?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what makes community, and what doesn’t. Here’s the best definition of community I can come up with: a group of people who care about each other, look out for each other, and are capable of and committed to finding ways of working through disagreements.

Based on this definition, I have come to the conclusion that online forums are rarely if ever communities. Maybe this is obvious to some people, but it’s a new revelation for me. Revelation and resignation, because for many years I have tried to seek community in online forums as well as in real life.

I didn’t wind up seeking community online because I like beating my head against the wall. I did it because in the 90’s I sought community through punk rock culture and zines, which eventually gave way to blogs. Blogs eventually gave way to Facebook.

Kaphine thinks we found community in Livejournal for a period of time, and it’s true I did form some genuine friendships there, but I’m not sure whether it ever felt like a community in and of itself. My theory is that the anonymity of the internet – that is, how easy it is for people to write whatever hurtful, false, or ridiculous thing they want without being held accountable – my theory is that this is fundamentally at odds with creating community. Maybe this is mitigated in a forum where people already know each other offline – for example, a private group blog I created for the other women who participated in a poetry workshop with Marge Piercy with me.

But mostly, I think Internet forums should be viewed as listservs. Useful ways to share information, perhaps have limited intellectual discussion, but not really a place to expect community to develop, because that usually just leads to disappointment and sometimes drama.

What do other people thinK? Do you think it’s possible to form a genuine, healthy community in an online forum? Have you experienced this? Comment and let me know. You know, like in a community.


~ by realsupergirl on April 3, 2014.

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