The proliferation of migration has created transnational communities that collide daily. Since social networking sites (SNSs) can potentially downplay cultural barriers, they emerge as a potential medium to break down social distance between migrants and receiving communities and thus, enable meaningful intercultural contact offline. This presentation focuses on Meetup, an SNS that facilitates offline encounters between its users by using shared interests and leisure (rather than age, gender or ethnicity) as the primary criteria for membership. With a mixed-methods approach comprising of surveys, semi-structured interviews, and social network analysis, I explore the extent to which Meetup promotes or obstructs the formation and maintenance of sustainable intercultural relationships in Melbourne, Australia. Preliminary results indicate that Meetup is effective in bridging cultural barriers, however, they also suggest that Meetup’s social networks are highly centralised and unstable. Meetup seems to be a living, breathing, organism that ebbs and flows in terms of participation, which could pose challenges for users who wish to sustain relationships overtime, and therefore, to long-lasting change. By identifying the factors that enhance or obstruct intercultural relationships via the use of SNSs, this study’s findings can contribute new knowledge to stakeholders striving to improve intercultural relationships in culturally diverse areas.
Lourdes Zamanillo is a PhD candidate at Monash University. Her research explores intercultural relationships in the context of a mobile, mediated, world. Before doing her PhD, she studied the role of empathy as a catalyst for change in tourism encounters and worked as a journalist in her home-country, Mexico; specializing in topics such as social enterprise, solutions journalism and social entrepreneurship.