Social networks can provide valuable services to the less fortunate, but sometimes they may be as much symptoms of problems as they are solutions. Reuters has reported that Argentina's poor are increasingly turning to Facebook-based "barter clubs" to trade goods in return for essentials they couldn't otherwise afford in a country grappling with high rates of inflation and unemployment. The groups had popped up in conventional forms in previous difficult years, but Facebook's rapid growth has made it the go-to option. This isn't a small-scale Craigslist-like exchange, we'd add -- there are frequently "hundreds" of people gathering at any given time.
The groups aren't always easy to track, but one barter club founder told Reuters her group was adding 50 to 60 new members every day.
While it would be ideal if these groups weren't necessary, they provide an important lifeline for poorer residents who'd otherwise have more trouble bartering goods. They also show how important social networking has become -- it's now the first place some people go for help in a rough economy, rather than turning to neighbors or the government. It also suggests that, as much as social sites have done to support communities in need, there's still room for additional help.