Does Twitter make our communities stronger?

New research shows that people tend to connect on Twitter with those who are in the same metropolitan region. Are we building stronger communities 140 characters at a time?
Written by Tyler Falk, Contributor

A common refrain about social networks is that they will erode our sociability -- our "real" interactions and relationships -- for "superficial" digital ones.

You might point out the people who tweet or check Facebook while walking down the street or in a social setting as examples of this artificial community that's unplugged from the real world. But are the digital communities that take place in social networks, like Twitter, actually making our physical communities stronger? A new study might begin to make that case.

The study, "Geography of Twitter networks," published by researchers at the University of Toronto and Dalhousie University in Canada, found that there is a strong link between "social ties" formed on Twitter and their proximity to each other. Basically, it's more common for social interactions on Twitter to occur between people who live within the same metropolitan region.

Richard Florida, at The Atlantic Cities, suggests that the study shows how Twitter actually reinforces the importance of physical places.

Their findings indicate that place and proximity continue to matter even in social media. Twitter doesn’t replace the networks that exist in the real world—it reinforces them and makes them stronger. Rather than freeing us from place, this study suggests, the Internet appears to enhance and even expand its role.

Think about it. Twitter can expand how you experience your community in ways that traditional media has not been able to do in quite the same way. You can get into the micro-details of your community that local television and newspaper media don't have the resources or interest to cover.

Let's say, for example, your commuter train is experiencing delays because of a technical malfunction. The transit agency can broadcast that information instantly to their community. Or take a new small business that wants to make it in a new neighborhood. They can reach their target audience by connecting to influential people in the neighborhood. When they offer a deal only to their Twitter followers, you are instantly connected to your physical community.

Whether a thriving digital community on Twitter is leading to a stronger physical community would be difficult to quantify, even though anecdotal evidence seems to make a strong case. But what do you think? Is Twitter helping to build stronger, more connected communities, neighborhoods, and cities?

How Twitter Proves That Place Matters [The Atlantic Cities]

Photo: derriel street photography/Flickr

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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