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Ever feel like you’re the only person within a 100-mile radius that has a certain opinion? Maybe you just moved to Boston from Philadelphia, and you are a Phillies fan surrounded by Red Sox fans. Go online to any social media site and you are sure to find a boatload of other Phillies fans living in Boston. Or, maybe you hate the newly crowned Miss America 2014 winner, even though all of your friends and family love her. Yup, check out Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, or almost any other social media platform, and you are sure to find tons of other people who agree with you.

After Nina Davuluri of New York was crowned Miss America 2014 on Sunday, becoming the first woman of Indian heritage to ever win this highly sought after title, Twitter exploded. Numerous people tweeted racist comments, claiming that Ms. Davuluri is not a “real American”, despite being born in Syracuse, New York. Many others resorted to calling her a terrorist, a member of Al-Qaeda, and a 7/11 worker.

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Image courtesy of BuzzFeed.com 

If social media networks did not exist, these negative and hateful comments probably would not have gone much past family dinnertime banter. With the availability and accessibility of social media, however, people are able to quickly organize into online communities. These online communities make it possible for people to express their thoughts and beliefs in a consolidated and effective manner.

While social media networking sites make it possible for individuals with negative and hateful ideas to form a community based upon a common opinion, these sites also allow individuals to form positive and constructive communities. In response to the hateful tweets about American-Indian Nina Davuluri being crowned Miss America 2014, many people posted positive Tweets and YouTube videos supporting Ms. Davuluri as the newest Miss America.

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Tweet courtesy of Twitter user Alex Wong

It is obvious that social media networking sites allow individuals to form communities that otherwise would not exist, mainly due to a lack of shared geographical space.  As Nancy Baym mentioned in her book Personal Connections in the Digital Age, “These technological definitions of ‘community’ appeal to developers [who]… hope to reap the benefits of the term’s warm connotations without having to deal with questions of what actually happens on site.” (74). Although the word “community” has positive undertones, social media networks also make it possible for people to organize and express negative thoughts and beliefs.  In this scenario, the racist and hateful comments about Ms. Davuluri were quickly trending on Twitter. However, a positive online community defending Ms. Davuluri also sprung up in response to the negative comments. So, we are left asking the million-dollar question: does the good outweigh the bad? Do online communities bring people closer together, or do these communities just create an extra space for bullying, that would not otherwise exist? The answer to this question is very complex.

Feature Image courtesy of Flickr user Robert Couse-Baker

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