5 Things I’ve Learned From Engaging With One Community For 10 Years

Can a community exist online while avoiding the toxicity of the outside world?

Justin Bennett-Cohen
6 min readMar 3, 2021
A Rainbow Nerdfighter Banner made by Reddit user u/quinntasia. Source

Throughout the years of learning about YouTube since 2010, I’ve grown to love creators that have come and gone, like Ray William Johnson, Nice Peter, and Kassem G. A lot of these creators had fantastic, supportive communities, but also never saw a lack of trolls and spam in the comment section. This leads creators to disable comments, but although this temporarily stops the toxicity, it also eliminates whatever supportive community that creator once had.

Around 2010, I discovered the Vlogbrothers channel with John and Hank Green. They were quite the interesting duo with viral videos about animal mating, challenges consisting of staying 15 hours in a Target, and knowledgeable videos explaining difficult to understand political issues in the world. I’ve been watching their videos every week for over 10 years, and it’s been an interesting ride to say the least.

The 2020 Vidcon Banner — Source

Since 2010, John and Hank have both changed as people throughout their life experiences. Hank created Vidcon, YouTube’s first video creator conference, John published The Fault In Our Stars, which skyrocketed his career in both positive and negative ways, and they both see themselves as different people now in 2021 than they did all those years ago.

The most interesting part of their channel is that they have not missed a video upload since 2007. Obviously the format has changed, with some videos being missed by one or the other for family or health reasons, but the consistency has stayed relatively unchanged. Both brothers seem to enjoy the consistency, as it provides structure to their lives, and fans like seeing their videos mostly unchanged within the 14 years of their existence.

The best part of this YouTube channel staying up for 14 years is the strong sense of community you get no where else. This is the only online community that I truly feel a part of and is as non-toxic as an online community can be. Yes, it’s not like the community we had in 2010, given the drastic increase and variety of people watching, but there’s still that feeling there.

The 2021 P4A Logo — Source

The annual Project For Awesome always makes me feel more hopeful than ever. For those who don’t know, this is a 3-day fundraiser for various causes, in which John, Hank, and other creators livestream for 48 hours straight, and give out physical and digital perks to those who donate to the cause. This year, Nerdfighteria, the name of the community, raised over $2.3 million in 3 days that will make a significant difference in people’s lives.

Below is a video released today, March 2nd, of a very stressed-out and definitely not-mentally-okay John Green, who probably had a thought of not posting this particular video after recording.

What’s Not in the Frame

In the comments are lots of individuals in the community relating to John’s issues, such as stuttering and understanding that we only see what’s in frame, and I’m sure it helped John feel better, even in the slightest. You won’t see a single comment of spam, toxicity, or “get-over-it”s in the comment section out of thousands of viewers.

This community feels like a breath of fresh air after swimming in a sea of darkness and animosity thrown in every direction throughout all of YouTube and every other social media.

Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash

Even TikTok, at the start of 2020 feeling like a somewhat small positive-only community of 18 to 20 somethings sharing their artistic passions and ducks named after different flavors of Cheez-Its, has now become a place to rant, judge others, and to make comments solely to cause arguments, on videos as innocent as Bill Nye making bread.

Some say that this sort of thing is bound to happen to any social media, new and old, but I believe there can still be small, active, supportive, positive-only communities like Nerdfighteria, that can make a difference and have some sort of a small-community feel to it. Here’s what I think needs to happen for that to be the case for your community.

Photo by Kylie Lugo on Unsplash

5 Things I’ve Learned From Engaging With Nerdfighteria For 10 Years

  1. The Community is Only as Strong as It’s Leaders. The reason John and Hank have been able to keep this community going for so long, with minimal toxicity within it, is because they listen, respond, and are respectful with every word thrown their way. They are also seen as respected leaders due to the number of charitable causes they support every year.
  2. Have a Number of Different Ways For The Community to Interact Together. The Nerdfighter Discord server has so many channels. There are channels on writing, creative endeavors, video games, music, engineering, snacks, etc. There’s even a channel for those looking for advice. Every time someone asks a question, serious or silly, it’s responded to with respect by genuinely good people. The vast amount of channels Nerdfighters are active in also allows new users to the community to feel welcomed and related to.
  3. Fight For Good Together. Every year, the Project For Awesome gets me incredibly excited because I get to talk within the community about different ways to get involved. 2020 was an awful year for me financially, so I couldn’t donate, but what I could do was promote the P4A on every social media platform in as many creative ways as possible. This shows enthusiasm and positivity about the community, which gets people outside Nerdfighteria excited about it. On the Discord server, lots of people shared various ways they were promoting it, big and small, which encouraged others to go above and beyond to promote it on their end as well.
  4. Be Friendly Towards Everyone. The old approach, “if you can’t say anything nice to someone, don’t say anything at all,” is actually a fantastic approach. It’s an unwritten rule, for the most part, and everyone follows it because if you don’t, everyone doesn’t like you, and you’re kicked from the Discord server with no words of animosity whatsoever. I believe people are mean to one another on social media to cause arguments because they get off on others joining in on their side. They want a sense of community as well, but they solely want to be mean and talk down to other people. When they don’t see anyone taking their side, they leave.
  5. Be Consistent. This goes for whatever community you run, no matter if it’s a YouTube channel, Instagram, Discord Server, or something else. You need to continue to upload weekly, biweekly, monthly, etc. This keeps your community excited and updated on what’s going on and why they should continue to be a part of your community. If John and Hank stopped uploading 5 years ago, I guarantee the amount of users on the Nerdfighter Discord server would have plummeted by now, even if there would be a few others left just for fun. Staying consistent with yearly projects like the P4A, or even just something for fun everyone can work on, keeps a community excited to stick together one more year.
Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash

What do you all think?

Are any of you a part of a positive community like this, online or off?

And can a community exist online while avoiding the toxicity of the outside world? Or is it inevitable that over time communities will change for the worse and be replaced by more animosity than kindness?



Justin Bennett-Cohen

I’m a Writer, Photographer, and lover of food and bad puns.