Community as a Refuge
3 min read

Community as a Refuge

In the fast-moving social media-fueled internet, can online communities be a place to go to rest?
Community as a Refuge

I tweeted a list of reasons why we should all start spending more time in private communities instead of on social media platforms.

Here is that list:

  1. What you see on both private communities and social media is heavily filtered by the leader of the platform. Private communities are upfront about that. Social media is not.
  2. You’re way more likely to get into a fist fight at a rowdy bar than at someone’s dinner party. Social media is a rowdy bar. It’s fun but you also might take a stray punch to the head once in a while.
  3. Private communities feel more like the early internet when things were less serious and more nerdy.
  4. Private communities have more transparent business models so you know where you stand as a member.
  5. Social media concentrates power. Private communities distribute power.
  6. There’s inherently way more accountability in a private community.
  7. Private communities aren’t trying to get you addicted to your phone.
  8. No ads.
  9. Community leaders are filters for the types of people you’ll meet in the communities they lead, which makes the people you interact with likely to be the type of nerd you vibe with.
  10. You’re way more likely to actually make new long-term friends in a private community.
  11. People say using platforms like Twitter gets less enjoyable the more your following grows, which is confusing since that’s the implicit goal of being on the platform in the first place.
  12. The conflicts in private communities are never the egregious kinds you hear on Twitter. They’re more nuanced and sometimes harder to solve, but rarely are people purposefully attacking each other. There’s a base level of respect.

The response to the thread has been generally positive. A bunch of us seem to be looking for those cozy internet corners which is so nice!

A few people interpreted this as a call to abolish social media or something more structural and universal. But I wasn’t trying to speak from that broad of a level. I was just sharing as one admittedly biased individual to other individuals about how we individually could think about balancing our online time.

This is a common misinterpretation of scale on large platforms that I think it’s important to be aware of.

On Twitter, we’re all given these bullhorns to yell out our opinions. We’re incentivized to yell out only the most important and significant brags, declarations and predictions of the future. And then defend those against others who are also holding bullhorns. On one hand, it feels very exciting and significant to be holding a bullhorn, on the other, it’s all very noisy and disorienting. And it definitely works against connection.

As community builders, maybe we can think of ourselves as builders of small refuges from Bullhornlandia.

So instead of replicating the stressful things, it makes sense to design something new by building thoughtful, calm spaces for communities.

Here are three simple ideas on how we do that:

  1. Slow things down. Set the expectation that interactions can happen asynchronously. Encourage longer, more thoughtful posts and responses in community platforms in favor of quick reactions.
  2. Host events. Seeing people on Zoom or in person builds trust and empathy throughout the group. I especially recommend leaving some room for members to spontaneously connect before or after meetings.
  3. Decrease FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Build in ways that members can stay connected even if they’re not plugged in 24/7. Sending a weekly recap email with what’s happening is a great way to do this.

We do not have to replicate the experiences from the places online that make us anxious, self-conscious and disoriented.

As community leaders, we have an opportunity to create little microcosms of the ideal world we want to live in. The world I want to live in is thoughtful, calm and nuanced. What about you? And how can that show up in the experiences you're creating?

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