Even in the Internet-positive circles we move in, some still dismiss the real life impact of things (especially conversation!) that happen online. People can be quick to pass around this webcomic, which implies that time spent in online communities is trivial.
But is there truth in that? What about communities that couldn’t have come together without the Internet? Is the Internet bringing us closer together or is it driving us apart? If you’d like to share your views, join us via LiveStream on May 11th for A Brave New World: How the Internet Affects Societies, an upcoming event with the Internet Society and Chatham House.
In advance of the event, we’d like to look at five ways people are using the Internet to come together and bridge the divide between between real life, Internet life, and their disparate communities.
Nunavut has some of the highest food prices in Canada, with a small jar of jam costing nearly 20 Canadian dollars. Leesee Papatsie took to Facebook to find a solution. She created a group that now has over 25,000 members sharing stories and strategies about how to access crucial nutrition, while working together to advocate for government and corporate solutions. It also inspired a spin off group Helping Our Northern Neighbours, which allows southern Canadians to send food and support to Northerners in need.
Amakomaya.com was started in 2011 by Rajendra Prasad Poudel, thanks to the support of an Internet Society grant, with the objective of bringing key information to rural Nepali mothers about pregnancy and pre-natal care. Since then it has made life-saving content, which has been reviewed by Nepali experts, available in local languages via the Internet for more than 350 women in 10 different villages. Expectant mothers can register, download and exchange pregnancy related content directly from the website.
Indigenous language and culture can be tough to keep alive as its speakers and members move away from home. Until there was the Internet, it was especially difficult to keep the lines of communication open between generations. Chickasaw.net aims to remedy that. The Chickasaw Language Revitalization Program has online tutorials and connects younger speakers with older speakers for an opportunity to practice and pass on stories. It also boasts an online television network with six different channels that include language lessons, cultural events, and oral histories. Thanks to this initiative, the 64,000 members of the Chickasaw Nation are now able to connect via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
While much of the Internet can be inaccessible to people with visual impairments, online radio is the perfect medium to keep this group from getting isolated. Radio MENQ was created by Armenian blind and visually impaired individuals with the support of the Internet Society’s “Beyond the Net Funding Programme”. Disabled artists and scientists are invited as guests to share their experience of living with handicaps. Radio MENQ is opening up new horizons for blind and visually impaired persons and their families, and the team is creating a best practice document to ease the replicability in other countries.
Even with all of these positive examples of online interaction, we’re aware that there is another side of the story. Harassment and abuse can happen in online spaces the same way it can in physical spaces. Heartmob exists as an antidote to that. Users (who are heavily vetted to keep out trolls) are able to report online abuse and harassment to the group and get both public and private support from the community.