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Social Media in Uptown: Pros and Cons

In a digital age, over one billion people have turned to social media, either in the form of Facebook or Twitter. In the 46th ward, residents have turned to Uptown’s Facebook page in order to form their own unofficial neighborhood watch. Currently 1,581 Facebook users “like” the page and are utilizing it to share information throughout the community.

People have posted about things such as car alarms going off and what they’d consider suspicious activity they’ve spotted. Whether someone lives on Irving Park/Racine or Foster/Ashland, the news gets across town because of media like this.

Aside from Facebook and Twitter, an up and coming site is being used for its hyper-local focus. EveryBlockwas redesigned in March of 2011

Uptown, Image via Flickr by Zol87

to focus on neighborhood conversations and building community.

Becca Martin, EveryBlock community manager, pointed out in an email that what draws Chicago residents to EveryBlock is “the news that’s specific to their neighborhood and the ability to connect with their neighbors.”

“As with any online community, conflicts do arise; but we have community guidelines in place and we enforce them as needed to help ensure that everyone helps us keep the discussions friendly and neighborly,” Martin continued.

Sean O’Leary has an office job in the city as a manager/branch chief for a federal government agency and has lived in Uptown for several years. He uses Uptown Update, both the Web site and the Facebook page, as his primary source for community news. He also gets news from links posted by friends on Facebook, where he can even talk to his neighbors; as well as the Chicago section of reddit, which contains news about Uptown, although not specific to the ward. Feeling as though Facebook and reddit are enough, O’Leary doesn’t use Twitter because he finds the character limit annoying.

“As a city person with an office job, I spend a lot of time online. Checking news sources while online is a lot easier than stopping to check the news on radio, print, or TV media,” O’Leary said in an email.

“The downside,” he continued, “is that you can sometimes get overwhelmed by bad news. There was a time in the spring of 2010 when there were many news reports of street violence and shootings in Uptown. You became aware of things happening across the neighborhood that you normally would never have heard of.”

Another downside to digital communication, according to O’Leary, is getting personally involved in arguments.

“The comments section of Uptown Update can be infuriating,” he said.

Scott Anderson, assistant professor at Medill School of Journalism, compared news consumption to a diet: just like eating one or two foods exclusively, only going to a couple news sources exclusively is a bad idea.

In an email, Anderson said, “While I applaud and encourage micro-local areas to share news and information and commentary on social networks, I would encourage residents not to think that they’re getting all the news they need from those sources. News doesn’t come to you as conveniently as your Facebook feed; you have to go out and find it.”

Ald. James Cappleman (46th) communicates on both Facebook and Twitter. If he has to answer to a specific issue someone has more than twice through social media, Cappleman invites residents to schedule personal meetings with him. Without social networking, this might not be possible.

Another site Cappleman frequents is EveryBlock, which he believes is sweeping the city.

“It can hurt. A lot of misinformation can be talked about,” Cappleman said.

But overall, Cappleman is pleased with EveryBlock, “because it’s an incredible way to communicate.”

Anderson has long applauded what EveryBlock founder Adrian Holovaty has done in creating and developing the service.

“EveryBlock is a perfect example of how to add fiber and nutrients to your local news and information diet,” Anderson said.

Between social networking sites and media outlets online, Uptown residents have somewhere to share their thoughts, news, and concerns with other residents, as well as their alderman.

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