We need to stop demonising online communities says Christian lecturer

A Christian lecturer has stressed the vital role digital spaces can provide in building healthy communities and supports comments that social media friends can provide us with better friendships than those we make face-to-face.

This comes after comments made by cultural historian Jon Lawrence, who has claimed that the 'Facebook generation' is more likely to forge worthwhile social connections than previous generations, because they are able to choose them.
The history professor at the University of Exeter said that because previous communities were built solely by proximity, people were often left isolated with no one else to turn to when disagreements occurred.

Mr Lawrence believes a small distance is healthy to build happy and mutual relationships.


Doctor Bex Lewis, Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University told Premier the digital world exposes people to a wider community to learn from and grow with.

She said: "There are times when you kind of get cut off from other people and you need to deal with the situation but you don't know how to and actually getting advice from people who are the other end of the country can be really, really helpful."

Dr Lewis argued that communities no longer need to be defined by location and the digital space can be a positive way to bring people together.

The lecturer, who suffers from cancer, has found her online community has acted as a form of church family throughout difficult moments: "I've been blogging about my experience. I've been able to let people know on social media when I need help, if physically, I'm not able to get out I can chat to other people."

When asked about the dangers of picking our online friends and only exposing ourselves to like-minded people, Dr Lewis warned that we need to be careful not to use it as an unheallthy escape from life and stressed the importance of using it for good and not overlooking our physical communities in the process.

"I think we need to have some wisdom in how we communicate online, and not use it necessarily as a ranting space, especially against other individuals, it's really important that we think about who we're connecting with how our content might affect other people who are seeing that.

"We need to think about putting some energy into connecting with those who are nearby and not neglecting them, because there's this wonderful thing going on online, but also we need to not demonise online."

Dr Lewis said the Church can model healthy and diverse communities, as they give us the opportunity to connect with people from all different perspectives and backgrounds, which we can then apply to our online conversations.

"I think one of the things that can happen with social media is you end up connecting with only the people who think like you and you have to make a real effort to do that differently. So actually, if you're in a church with a wide range of ages, people who think differently politically, it can model a different way of doing this and having healthy debate."

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