The Power of Virtual Communities

Report by The GovLab: “When India went into lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, restrictions on movement affected people’s access to medicine, food and other supplies that they relied upon. HIV/AIDS sufferers feared traveling to clinics and labs to pick up their medication. Needing help, many turned to HumanKind Global, a new network of thousands of volunteers who coordinate aid through a Facebook Group and WhatsApp (also owned by Facebook).

Mahita Nagaraj, 39, a self-employed digital marketing professional and single mother based in Bangalore, created the group in March 2020. In just four weeks, HumanKind Global volunteers delivered lifesaving HIV medicines to more than 170 people across India. It has since grown to more than 50,000 members. Answering more than 25,000 requests for help, these volunteers have coordinated blood donations, delivered life-saving medication and provided people stranded at home with enough food to eat.

HumanKind Global is an online group, a form of human organization that is expanding at a remarkable scale and speed. Online groups exist for many reasons. Some offer lifesaving support while others enable people—whether they life next door or across an ocean—to trade articles, jokes, photographs, insults, ideas, advice, information, and sometimes misinformation. The space in which contemporary online groups are active is at once global and local, intimate and vast. A post can reach two million people, or spark a conversation between just two. Governed by their own members and the policies of the platforms on which they are hosted, these groups have diverse rules that seek to create a space in which their members can connect supported by feelings of belonging, intimacy and trust.

Online groups like HumanKind Global can be found on many platforms. There are discussion groups on Reddit, artist colonies on LEGO Mindstorms, player groups on gaming platforms like Twitch, or parenting groups in which members go online to organize real-life meetings through MeetUp. But in this report we study Facebook Groups, specifically, as one category of online group….(More)”. (See also: