SOCIAL networking and the use of social media certainly divides opinion. Some say living in a virtual reality means we may find it difficult to distinguish between meaningful relationships in the real world and false connections we make online.
But, surely, like any tool, social networking, when used practically and with a pinch of common sense, can offer an abundance of positive outcomes?
Mum of two Clodagh Ryan is originally from Carrigaline and had been living away from the area for over 15 years when she moved back with her family, three years ago. “I came back, just after my little boy was born and found that I was starting from scratch again, trying to make friends”, said Clodagh.
She joined a local Facebook group for mums which later became Parents of Carrigaline (and surrounding areas). Clodagh runs the page with another woman, Sylvia Fulgraf-Smith.
Clodagh explained the transition that many mothers make from a career to parenthood, and how social media was a useful tool during this time.
“I used to work as a programme manager where I managed a residential service for people with intellectual disabilities. To go from that, to suddenly being a stay-at-home mum and having moved from somewhere else, was a huge shock to the system.
“I found the support I got from this virtual reality was very helpful. I made friends that were going through similar things. It was nice to know that I wasn’t the only one.”
Clodagh compares pages like Parents of Carrigaline (and surrounding areas) to the days before social media when people would meet in the local parish hall, a place where people can meet, share ideas and make plans.
With almost 2,000 people using the page across the areas of Carrigaline, Crosshaven, Minane Bridge, Nohaval, Ballygarvan, Ringaskiddy and Shanbally, the virtual parish hall is helping connect people to each other in different ways.
“On Mondays, we run a business thread,” says Clodagh, “where people can advertise their own businesses.”
Every Friday, we do a ‘What’s on for the weekend?’ post which is family-friendly.”
Members of the parent-to-parent voluntary support group, Cuidiù, are strongly featured on the Facebook page. Walking groups, playdates and parent meet-ups have been organised via the page.
Clodagh is keen to include as many people as possible in this virtual community. What started three years ago as a page for mums, is now open to all parents, foster parents and primary carers.
“I wanted to get out of the mindset that the page was only for mums with small babies. There are other people in the area with older children and they also need to have a support network.”
At the same time as the Facebook page in Carrigaline was born, another page in Glanmire was also in its infancy, but has grown into a huge success.
The Mums of Glanmire Facebook page was originally set up as a breast-feeding support group and social page for new mothers and had 80 members.
Ger Moloney and Niamh Nash took over the running of the page when the founding member emigrated. There are now almost 6,000 women using the site.
Ger is originally from Dublin. She has three children, aged 19, 16 and 13. She remembers being a young mother in Glanmire.
“I only had a few friends. I was working full-time. I didn’t get out with other mothers back then and I often didn’t know what was going on around the area. You don’t know until your child starts school. So, you have five years of trying to figure out where to go to do things.”
The analogy of ‘meeting at the school gate’ motivated Ger to make information more accessible to the wider community. As her children were older, she “was no longer at the school, collecting the children at the school gate where you meet the other mothers and talk. I didn’t have anywhere to get local information. It wasn’t as accessible. I thought, ‘I’d love to be at the school gate on Facebook’.”
Like Parents of Carrigaline (and surrounding areas), Mums of Glanmire runs a business advertising thread on Mondays.
“I decided to start advertising and supporting local businesses to spread money in our own locality, where possible. Before I add people to the thread, I ask them if they want to be included.”
Ger is adamant that Mums of Glanmire is a positive tool. “I hate the bad-mouthing effect of Facebook. I am allergic to the negative. I approve the posts because I don’t want people adding negative posts that I haven’t seen that could get out of control.
“I don’t allow people to bash businesses because the business owner wouldn’t have the right to reply via the page.”
With clear aims and due diligence required to monitor the page, Ger and Niamh spend a lot of their free time working on the site.
“I am in and out of the page all the time,” says Ger. “I love the fact that it’s helping people. Some people have gotten jobs from the page. Students have gotten work placements. People have hired brilliant childminders. I most definitely know it helps.”
From her home in Blarney, Kate Durrant runs the monthly magazine, Muskerry News. The magazine started 14 years ago and moved onto Facebook eight years ago.
Kate also runs Kenmare News. Running two magazines with an online presence amounts to 50 hours of work a week. Apart from it being her career, Kate says: “I love being part of my local community. I love passing on positive news. We could drown in negativity. It’s lovely to be able to disseminate information that wouldn’t ordinarily come to the surface — children making their communion, a teenager handing in a lost purse on a bus, finding a dog that has been missing for three days and returning him to his owner — what’s not to like about that?”
Like Clodagh and Ger, Kate chooses to accentuate the positive aspects of social networking and media.
As well as serving the people in Blarney, Kate also gets messages from many Corkonians who live abroad.
“We get comments from people in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, China — a photo may have been posted of a niece or nephew when Santa visited them at school. They can make a connection, in real time, with the people they love that they have left behind,” says Kate.