Like many others, you are probably looking for new hobbies while social distancing, perhaps even an online community. No matter what new hobby you have found, looking into its online community has many benefits. While many communities will openly welcome you, others may be less inviting. Remembering to be smart about entering a new online community is just as important as doing so in real life. Especially as a teen or young adult, knowing who you are joining and why is always a good decision.
What is an Online Community or Fandom?
According to Google’s dictionary, a fandom is “the fans of a particular person, team, fictional series, etc. regarded collectively as a community or subculture.” Calling any online community a fandom, however, doesn't receive the best reaction. However, if you think of it as a group of people who all enjoy the same things, it shouldn’t be too intimidating. No matter your interests, there’s probably an online community you can join.
How To Find a Community
Joining a new community might seem difficult at first. Tight knit communities, especially if they’ve been around for a while, can be intimidating. However, the first step is finding the community you want to join. If we pretend you find baking interesting, we can begin to find the online community you want. In this case, you would start with recipes. Many of these recipes could lead to blogs run by many types of bakers. These blogs can then lead you to message boards and other community hubs. From there you just have to start interacting with others in the community. This example would likely include sharing your favorite recipes or a funny story related to your new hobby.
Online communities generally aren’t going to hide from you. To find them, you only have to find a path to lead you there. No matter how you discover your preferred online community, there will be many ways to interact with the other members. You can always simply look around without contributing, but everyone would be glad to see you participate. A welcoming community won’t crucify you for wanting to be an active member. However, when you’re ready to start being an active member of a community there are many ways to do so.
How to Interact with a Community
Depending on the community you’re joining, there will be many ways to interact with other members. From sharing your own art to discussing debatable topics, online communities are meant for interaction. So long as you aren’t hurting yourself or others there’s no wrong way to participate. In fact, most online communities are very encouraging towards active members.
If you aren’t comfortable sharing, say, an original character design you made after discovering a love of role-playing games, that’s okay. Your hobbies are your own and how you choose to engage in them is yours, too. Scrolling on social media and liking dozens of others’ art based on your favorite book series is a great way to interact with an online community. If anything, members of that community will appreciate you even more for it.
Ways to contribute vary greatly. Many online communities even have organized websites or social media pages dedicated to these activities. Online communities greatly appreciate active members and encourage interaction. However, like with general internet safety, you should remember to stay safe and smart.
Avoiding Sensitive Content
For some people, online communities are a way to process or escape from less than ideal situations. Some people write graphic short stories, create detailed art, or even share personal stories because they feel their online community is a safe space. In the same way you’re looking for entertainment, these people are looking for safety.
However, if you don’t feel comfortable seeing posts like these, they are avoidable. Most people making posts with more sensitive content have likely been a part of the community for a while. This means they’ve probably learned to include what’s called a “trigger warning” in their posts. A trigger warning is “a statement … [in] a piece of writing, video, etc., alerting the reader or viewer to the fact that it contains potentially distressing material” (Google Dictionary). Normally found at the beginning of a post, trigger warnings are the easiest way to avoid seeing content you aren’t looking for.
However, some people may not include a trigger warning. In this case, having certain words or phrases blocked or black-listed is the most effective way to avoid sensitive content. Generally, common social media platforms where you would interact with a community allow you to block specific words or phrases. Unfollowing or blocking people who like, share, or comment on sensitive content is also a good strategy for avoiding upsetting topics or imagery.
Avoiding General Danger in an Online Community
Unfortunately, online communities are not safe from general internet dangers. In some cases, certain communities are even targeted and attacked. Just like regular social media, online communities face the same internet dangers as anyone else. Staying safe while joining a new community is similar to staying safe when joining any social media platform. The basics, like never giving out personal information, still apply. In this situation, however, you’ll likely feel more comfortable sharing stories or personal thoughts. While you should feel comfortable in the community you’ve joined, safety is still a priority.
Joining an online community is also different because making friends is usually encouraged. Though you’ll be reaching out to strangers, you can still protect yourself from possible harm.
Making Friends in an Online Community
When trying to befriend someone solely online, always be wary of answering identifying questions. Whoever you reach out to shouldn’t pressure you to tell them you’re name, age, gender, etc. Sticking to nicknames and age ranges is better. Joining smaller groups, like a group chat on Twitter, can be a great way to safely make friends. In this setting, it’s easier to avoid giving out information you don’t feel comfortable giving out. Simply interacting with others outside of private chats can also lead to new friendships.
Avoiding Harassment or Hate
When joining an online community, you are probably looking for entertainment or new friends. However, some communities are targeted by other individuals or communities. People in your chosen community may receive hateful comments or be harassed. Although this may be discouraging, you shouldn’t let this keep you from joining in. Being careful about who you interact with is the easiest way to avoid this. Blocking certain profiles or tags on your social media of choice is also a great idea, along with making your profile private on your social media of choice.
Fandom Should be Fun!
Remember, although there’s risk everywhere on the internet, joining a fandom should be fun. Safety is the priority but enjoying yourself is a remarkably close second. So, get out there and find a new community. Who knows, you might just find your new best friend!
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