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Working paper

Studying Patterns of Communication in Virtual Urban Groups With Different Modes of Privacy

This paper is concerned with online communication of apartment buildings' residents on general purpose social networking site (SNS) VKontakte (VK), focusing on how groups' participants use instruments of SNS to separate place-based discussions and participation in wider community initiatives. With the help of topic modeling algorithm LDA, we analyzed posts collected from online groups related to apartment buildings in St. Petersburg to reveal differences in communication in open groups and restricted access groups. We also looked at overlaps between local groups of apartment buildings and city-wide movements. Our study shows that inside SNS there is a functional differentiation between restricted access groups and open groups, which have different audiences and communicative strategies. Restricted access (private) groups play an important role in the formation of neighbors' communities of trust and, supposedly, can be useful substitutes of face-to-face interaction for people moving into new buildings. Open (public) groups function as public forums for fostering neighbors' cooperation and attracting the attention of the broader public to local issues and conflicts.