“Facebook was the single most important way we found out what was going on…”
The Arson Project takes on many of the questions raised in these first two projects to examine how place-based social media (e.g., Facebook, Google Maps, etc.) were used to mobilize social and material capital in the face of a lethal arson spree. Specifically, I examine one spree in Northampton, MA, which received considerable attention comparing it to a similar event that received little financial and media attention in the poorer, proximate community of Holyoke, MA. Analyzing over 640 community members’ online activity, traditional media news coverage, and two dozen interviews with key stakeholders, conventional media members, citizen journalists, members of relief organizations, community activists and arson victims, my preliminary findings suggest that, rather than utilizing more conventional avenues of developing organizational resources to respond to arson (e.g., government, community, and religious-based groups), residents in the wealthier community utilized social media to augment fundraising efforts and also to develop direct and strategic dialogue with neighbors, government, and conventional media. This research indicates that neighborhoods with social and material capital are finding new tactics to engage in this growing facet of the ‘public’ sphere, a valuable community resource that was simply not in existence a few years ago.
This study demonstrates how the very technologies that appear to undermine community are sufficiently flexible to potentially reinforce communities that are able to marshal those resources to their advantage and (in the larger project) show how a poorer community without social media resources fails to attract support for their members. It allows me to link crime, inequality, and new social media, to my multidimensional study of community and place.