The Camellia Network

Type in “strange social networks” on Google and you will find a plethora of social networking sites that cater to a specific group of people. This story just offers a few of those: a network for those who like to knit, a network for “vampire freaks,” and even a network that is a online bar. Why would I introduce my blog pointing out this colorful array of social media? To prove that there is a social networking site for everyone and everything.

Zoe Fox, on mashable.com, recently wrote an article, New Social Network Aims to Fill Void Left by Foster Care System, about a new social network that is for those growing out of the foster care system (as obviously stated by the title). Once a foster child turns 18, he or she must leave the foster care system unless previously adopted by his or her foster family. This means that about 30,000 young adults are kicked out of their home each year. As stated by the article, 25% will become homeless, another 25% will go to jail, and only about 3% will earn college degrees. (Fox) There is something wrong with this system. Two women, Iris Keigwin and Vanessa Diffenbaugh, decided to act upon this problem by starting a website, named The Camellia Network, that is part social network and part crowd-surfing platform, where those leaving the foster care system can share updates, write on each others’ message boards, or solicit funds. ““Part of our goal is to offer the larger community a way to help these really ambitious, inspiring 18- and 19-year-olds who are products of a flawed system that wasn’t their faults,” Keigwin says.” (Fox) Sounds awesome, right?

Let’s first look at the article itself. How does Fox, through the tone of the article, make this social network appear as? Technological determinist? Social constructionist? Social shaping? Domestication? Having read about these ideas in Personal Connections in the Digital Age by Nancy Baym, I would say that the article takes a technological deterministic approach. This means that this technology, The Camellia Network, is believed to be all powerful and through this power, can change people’s lives. This social network has the ability to improve the everyday life of those struggling when outgrowing the foster care system by not only connecting with others going through the same ordeals, but by being able to receive gifts from complete strangers. The article states that the website wants to help these young adults “with the support and resources of a family.” (Fox) The foster care system is obviously flawed (as shown through the statistics and facts written above), so this website was started to “create lasting change for the community of kids who age out.” (Fox)  That sentence right there proves the technological determinist view through the idea of a website creating change.

What is most interesting about this social networking site (in my humble opinion) is the idea that it is actually a social networking site. In danah m. boyd and Nicole B. Ellison‘s article about social network sites, they venture to say that most “social networking sites” are misnamed because no “networking,” which is when relationships are initiated, actually occurs on a normal basis. (boyd, Ellison, 211) That is not the case with TCN. Anyone (even you and me!) can go on the website and purchase a gift, which can be anything from clothes to sheets to more expensive gifts, like a computer, for those registered on the site. Also, if you join as a supporter, (I made my own account as one. Some participant observation happening!) you are able to write on the message boards on the profiles of those leaving foster care. Here’s an example from a profile of a young woman named Kiara:

“Kiara, You are beautiful! I wish you the best with your endeavors. Has your baby been born yet? I hope you are encouraged by this support network to keep pursuing your dreams! -Laurie”

As you can see, these message boards allows stranger to communicate with each other, and offer words of advice or encouragement, along with the option to give a monetary gift.

boyd and Ellison also state later in their article that “while most SNSs focus on growing broadly and exponentially, others explicitly seek narrower audiences.” (218) This social network is a prime example of this. Though 30,000 young adults are kicked out of the foster care system every year and thus, are the target demographic for The Camellia Network, that is a very small audience compared to the millions of people who can use Facebook or Tumblr, which has no set audience. boyd and Ellison use the examples of Couchsurfing, BlackPlanet, and MyChurch as limited SNSs, (218) so TCN would fall with these. However, because TCN was just launched this past summer, it may end up like Facebook, which started as just a small network for Harvard students. (I know this is quite an statement, that will probably not be true for any other social media site, let alone a site for foster children, but a site can dream.) The Camellia Network is still an infant and who knows what may happen when it hits maturity.

The article that I found on mashable.com wished to inform the public about a new social networking site that was looking to help others. The Camellia Network desires to create change in the lives of those leaving the foster care system, and thus, having to face the world on their own. Strangers can connect and help each other with kind words and gifts and one can even just learn about the foster care system through this website. Doing some good for the world? Check! Connecting those undergoing hardship? Check! A wonderful new social networking site? Check!

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