Virtual Communities are a fairly new concept that came along with Web 2.0. Gone are the days of meeting a group in person to discuss mutual interests because now we can do all of that from the comfort of our own home. No longer do people have to feel scared to express their feelings in a safe place because there are so many platforms dedicated to ensuring this. People all across the world are able to communicate with strangers that they otherwise may not have even gotten the chance to know.
One virtual community in particular that came to mind is a secret Facebook group Pantsuit Nation that a relative added me to during last year’s election. As you can tell by the title, the group is dedicated to Hillary Clinton supporters and has amassed nearly 4 million members to date. What started as a group for supporters to come and feel safe has turned into a phenomenon. The group consists of several posts a day where people share intimate stories and photos as a therapeutic method during troubling times in their lives. Since all of the members share the mutual support of Hillary Clinton, the members are empathetic to one another and support each other as members.
When examining what type of virtual community Pantsuit Nation would fall under, it is clear that it possesses characteristics that make it a mesh of many different types. Humphreys refers to an imagined community as one that is bound by belonging to one community or nation. The members of this type of community discuss news and have mutual feelings on controversial issues – just as the members of Pantsuit Nation do. Her description of a subculture community is also applicable here because that type of community is described as a small grouping within a culture that shares the same beliefs, norms, practices etc. The last type of community that Pantsuit Nation could be categorized as is an audience community. In this type of community, the group is formed around a specific product. Although the group has evolved into a safe place for people to share their feelings and stories, the group initially started as a group in support of Hillary Clinton – and one could argue that Clinton herself is a product (Humphreys 173 – 174).
Though I am more of a passive member or lurker in this group, I still see posts and have a general understanding of how the group functions as a virtual community. Since there are so many people in the group, it is hard to pinpoint some of the other roles such as information gatherers, trolls and newbies, but one role in particular that is important in this group is the role of the gatekeeper. In this group, the gatekeeper roles consist of those members who are admins and a new feature that I didn’t know was available as moderator. These individuals are responsible for keeping the peace within the group and vetting posts to make sure they are appropriate and will resonate with the audience before they allow them to be posted. With almost 4 million members, these moderators have a huge task of reading several posts a day and are counted on for their diligence and commitment to the group – just as a gatekeeper would in any other group. One other important role within this group is the sock puppet. Humphreys describes this role as someone who has joined the group under an alias. These members are not creating sock puppets for mischievous reasons, rather they are creating these alias’ in order to shield their real identity when sharing a story. In a group with millions of members, a neighbor of theirs might see a personal story that they would rather not be linked back to them (Humphreys 177 – 179).
(This is not meant to be a political post, just sharing what I see as the perfect example of an online community! I am also not sharing screenshots from the group in order to preserve the privacy of its members.)
Hillary Clinton – http://gph.is/2cOpttH
We’re all in this together – http://gph.is/2ddiMlg
Humphreys, Ashlee. Social Media: Enduring Principles. New York: Oxford UP, 2016. Print.