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The Today

SOCO Student Media from Colorado State University Pueblo

The Today

SOCO Student Media from Colorado State University Pueblo

The Today

Opinion: Online communities a source of true, deep connection

Items+gifted+to+Kimmy+from+online+friends+over+the+last+two+years+%28Today+Photo+Kimmy+Reinhardt%29
Items gifted to Kimmy from online friends over the last two years (Today Photo Kimmy Reinhardt)

By Kimmy Reinhardt

Making jokes with your friends while sharing a laugh, celebrating big events together, and comforting one another with a hug and kind words when the world feels like it’s falling apart: All of these moments are memories that stay within friend groups for years.

Video call of Kimmy R. and friend Jonathan F.
Courtesy Photo Cilicia S.

But what happens when you met your friend group online? Can real and fulfilling friendships be formed? 

Often the belief behind a relationship formed on the internet is that it is unable to grow and become a real friendship due to the physical distance separating both parties. 

For many across the world, the internet has become a safe space away from the real world. As the internet grew, online spaces housed communities of people who never even met. 

Despite the negative view of many online spaces, they give people the opportunity to connect with others and see opinions and views that they never would have had the chance to experience before, much like friendships in the traditional sense. 

Over the last 10 years of my life, but most importantly the most recent two with COVID-19 shutting down the world around us, I have found my way into more online spaces. I met my closest friends online in the replies of Twitter threads, Discord servers and Twitch streams. 

Still, every time I mention my amazing friends to a group of people I’m faced with comments full of horror stories from the internet, and being told to never trust anyone. The inevitable moment where I have to explain that I have now met seven amazing people in person after spending months talking online is always full of concern and awkward attempts at being supportive of my choices. 

I am not denying scary things happen on the internet, or the legitimacy of the horror stories I was told: I know bad things happen as a result of the internet, but bad things happen as a result of going to pick up a few things from the grocery store, too. We don’t tell people not to go to stores for fear of what might happen, we teach them how to be safe. Why can’t we do the same for the internet? 

Quick errands to the grocery store and the constant usage of the internet are here to stay.

Items gifted to Kimmy from online friends over the last two years (Today Photo Kimmy Reinhardt)

I learned from a young age the basics of how to interact with media safely: If something or someone feels off, cut off contact, tell a trusted figure in your life and don’t give your address out to somebody unless you are entirely sure they are really who they say they are. Especially now, as someone who works in social media, I know how important protecting yourself and your information is, but that doesn’t mean you should never connect with others online. If it weren’t for online connections, I never would have met some of my favorite people who live all over the world.

One of these communities I was lucky enough to find when I was 10 years old, and I have stuck in the community during the hardest times of my life. Two brothers, John and Hank Green, who started making content in 2007 formed a community known as Nerdfightera — a place built around fighting negativity in the world and making the planet a better place for everyone.  

From deep ruts of depression to moments that changed my life for the better, Nerdfighteria has been the most consistent community in my life and has given me opportunities never would have known were possible. 

I have designed art that raised thousands of dollars for a community that saved my life, met my closest friends and discovered my passion for my future career because of the online community around John and Hank Greens’ content. It made me the person I am today and will continue to shape me for the rest of my life. 

Kimmy R. and Cilicia S. on Kimmy’s birthday trip to Washington
Courtsey Photo Kimmy Reinhardt

Without this community of self-proclaimed “nerds” coming together to share their love of two brothers on Youtube, I never would have met two of my closet friends. I wouldn’t have traveled to Washington for my 20th birthday or celebrated getting an interview for my dream job with people who knew how important this dream was.

Josie H. Kimmy R. and Adia E. after three-day roadtrip

Although we are scattered across the country — from Washington to Utah, Alabama, and New York — we are all connected to one another.

There are communities that make everyone feel as though they are one large friend group, where everyone welcomes whoever may pass through the space; but then there are online spaces where you become a family. You spend countless hours together, talking, sharing your darkest moments and your happiest days. While I have connected with so many spaces that have come close to this feeling, only one has really shown me a true online family.

Rather than Twitter, like many of my connections online, my online family came from the Twitch stream of a singer I discovered in 2018. A platform based around watching others stream while they themselves interact with content brought me to my safe space online. Matt Walden streams his music on Twitch while forming real connections with everyone in the chat, encouraging everyone watching to have conversations with him and one another. 

During the past year, I have had the opportunity to meet and become friends with Matt and other viewers of his twitch stream, while he completed his first West Coast tour. While many were unable to attend Walden’s tour, he never left fans outside of where he was visiting out of the adventures, with streams of live shows across the country airing on Twitch.

Kimmy Reinhardt and Matt Walden after a show in Denver Colorado March 2022
Courtesy photo Kimmy Reinhardt

Audiences in person and online could watch and interact together; I found myself talking to my friends in the chat while I sat in the venue of the Roswell, New Mexico, stop of the “The Light Between the Trees” tour. I was there in person, but I still reached out to connect with my friends and share the excitement of seeing what they were seeing from across the world. 

Online friendships can be life-changing, and bring moments of great joy to people across the globe. However, even better than talking to your friends online, is the moments when you finally get to meet in person, hug them for the first time and actually see the person who you love so deeply occupy the same space as you.

From meeting my first online friend this time last year, to going on a last-minute road trip with another, to finally meeting Matt on tour and picking up like we talked all the time, my life has been changed by the moments spent in online communities. Despite many being uncomfortable about the idea, it is becoming an imperative part of the world we live in.

More from Kimmy Reinhardt

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The search for self: A student’s story of finding identity and community

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