Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

The Slow Erosion of Community

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Tyler Sova
July 22, 2022

The continual disruptions caused by the COVID-19 virus and the implacable violence permeating every public space is accelerating the loss of community in American life. Community is the backbone of governance in America. We have a representative democracy that shines brightest on local and state levels. Through local communities change can occur. It’s how in our neighborhoods, schools, places of work and worship we know what the will of the people is. There is no such thing as a “golden era” anytime in American history. You will always find hardship, controversy and wrongdoing. But, there are times when systems work better than others. Currently, community is failing. Not only failing, but having butterfly effects on society. Violence, police misconduct, turbulent politics and social media, all have serious roots in the erosion of community. Public administrators have an incredibly trying road ahead in dealing with the fallout of this erosion and steps that can be made to slow or reverse it.

Slowly, but surely, the trend of community erosion has appeared. Confidence in police is on the decline. Currently it is at 51 percent compared to a 2004 high of 64 percent. Those percentages drop dramatically for minorities with black Americans polling at 29 percent. The percentage disparity alone is enough to cause concern. It also illustrates fractures in communities—they may begin small, but they always grow. Local newspapers have been in decline for years. That decline continues to accelerate, leaving hundreds of communities with “news deserts” that render 70 million people with either no local news or limited access. Local news is one way communities receive community updates, like local government ordinance, planned school changes/updates, tax proposals, etc. Without reliable local information it’s harder for citizens to find data that leads to informed decisions about their lives and where they live. Social Scientist Lilliana Mason explains that when residents read local news, residents tend to think on a local level, but when they read national publications, they tend to think on a partisan level. Partisan thinking leads to more division, further eroding our communities.

Other traditional institutions such as the church or boy and girl scout programs have seen dramatic declines. Church membership is below 50 percent for the first time since tracking began in 1937. This decline is mostly led by increasing atheism or no affiliation. The point is not to argue for or against traditional institutions, but to show a decline in membership that is not being replaced. There is little evidence to show that people have been filtering to alternative communal spaces. With the COVID pandemic exacerbating the issue, ever more people poured online to social media such as Facebook, Reddit or Twitter.

Social media offers a different type of community. Social media groups are often led by anger, fear and misinformation. False and edited information spreads faster than anything can be corroborated or debunked. It’s not just articles that are easily faked or fabricated, but now pictures and videos. We are losing our ability to have shared experiences, and are instead being left with what I call “custom experiences.” Social media’s algorithms show us, each individually, what it thinks we want to see, leading to information bubbles that skew how we view the world. Recalling what Lilliana Mason said above, social media also causes more partisan thinking and less local thinking. Memes oversimplify complex situations or hand out harsh criticism with no other side to defend. Social media has sadly been used as a tool to divide communities and tools introduced by sites to reduce this have had little effect.

Public administrators have difficult choices to make. Once beloved local affairs like parades, celebrations and festivals are marred with violence or the anxiety that there could be violence. The recent shooting in Illinois highlights that violence with poignant accuracy. Not being able to safely enjoy a parade with your family further causes community division. Now local governments have to ask themselves if they can safely hold events. Do they need to put snipers on a roof? Should a resident want to attend events that require snipers on the roof? Lack of safety is destructive to any community. How should government create safe spaces? It’s an incredibly hard question to answer. Each community will have their own needs and equally their own solutions. It’s more important right now to recognize the problem. Recognize that our shared experiences and sense of community are starting to fray at the seams.

Author: Tyler Sova is a current Federal employee. He received his MPA in 2017 and is a member of the Keystone State Chapter of ASPA. He can be reached at [email protected].

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *