Private Groups Might Be The Last not bad Thing About Facebook

Molly Snee for BuzzFeed News

My Facebook group isn’t private, yet This specific isn’t easy to find either. Its title doesn’t include my name. At various points in my journalistic history, when I’ve written something that will’s attracted the attention of trolls, my group has remained immune. A few times a day, I post articles as a point of discussion, along with then the group, which currently numbers over 42,000, discusses those articles — along with the topics therein — inside comments. (In truth, This specific’s a page masquerading as a group — a secondary group, moderated by myself along with others, includes posts through members). This specific sounds dorky, along with This specific generally can be.

Of course, Facebook’s mysterious along with befuddling algorithm ensures that will only a fraction of the members see a given post. yet the comments are funny, along with thought-provoking, along with inquisitive. People disagree, people ask questions, people ask for elaboration — yet, with rare exception, people are not nasty or dismissive or horrible to one another. inside rare occasion nastiness does arrive (once every few weeks, usually when a post has been shared “outside” of the group to another person’s feed), I unceremoniously block them.

I started out the original group in 2009, along with have never monetized This specific. I do This specific because I definitely, definitely like This specific, along with the people who are part of This specific tell me they definitely, definitely like This specific too. This specific’s a place where I feel like I can ask questions, or for help working through an idea that will’s not quite there yet. Members come through all over the earth, along with, according to Facebook’s analytics, 81% identify as women. Men periodically post inside comments. yet they recognize, in a way I rarely see online, that will their opinions are secondary.

For many of us, these groups are one of the few remaining things tethering us to a platform that will’s proven itself ineffective at combating toxicity, misinformation, along with abuse in nearly every way. They provide community for people through all over the earth, doing a bunch of different stuff, which has a bunch of different along with intersecting identities.

Men periodically post inside comments. yet they recognize, in a way I rarely see online, that will their opinions are secondary.

Back in 2017, still reeling through the revelations about Facebook’s role in spreading misinformation around the presidential campaign, Facebook realized that will these groups were the one truly not bad thing going for the platform — along with announced its brand-new mission. Before, Facebook was attempting to “make the earth more open along with connected.” currently, the aim was “to give people the power to build community along with bring the earth closer together.” There would certainly be a brand-new focus on increasing the number of people in “meaningful” groups, defined as “the most important part of someone’s experience on Facebook.” In 2017, 100 million people were involved in meaningful groups. In 2019, the number had risen 0 million. The goal, according to Facebook, can be to reach 1 billion before 2022.

yet Facebook didn’t build these groups. We built them in spite of Facebook. We built them because of what Facebook had become. Which can be why so many people are furious at how difficult This specific’s become to transfer or find that will community elsewhere online.

When I first joined Facebook inside mid-2000s — before the News Feed, before the like button — there were no groups, just “interests.” The one I remember most vividly had to do with loving the sound of the first leaf you hear crunch under your foot in fall. You didn’t do anything in, or with, the group — This specific was more like an interest collective. As Facebook evolved along with expanded, so too did the types of collectives: First, there were pages; then came joinable groups. Today, groups can be public (anyone can join at any time); private (you can request to join, yet must be admitted by a moderator); along with “secret” — the type you can only find if someone inside group invites you.

The most basic type of group can be location-focused. One of my favorites, “Uniquely Anaconda” (~9,500 members), can be for “people who grew up in Anaconda, Montana (or wish they had) to share memories, photos, stories, along with hopefully reconnect with friends along with family.” In practice, This specific means a lot of people posting photos through their morning walks. different groups, like “Dogspotting” (~1.29 million members), are global, dedicated to the “game, sport along with lifestyle of spotting random dogs you encounter.” “This specific Cat can be C H O N K Y” can be for pictures of, uh, chonky cats, yet also, as one member put This specific, a place where “no one shames anyone along with if you’re having a bad day you can request pics of the thing about pets that will makes you happiest.” (If the cats on the page aren’t chonky enough, there’s also “This specific Cat can be Actually C H O N K Y.”)

People disagree, people ask questions, people ask for elaboration — yet, with rare exception, people are not nasty or dismissive or horrible to one another.

There are seemingly endless groups dedicated to local yard sales, “Buy Nothing” swaps, personal MLMs, high school graduation classes, fandoms, cooking, genealogy, along with more. There’s a group for seltzer aficionados, along with “Brutalist Concreteposters” along with Rancho Gordo Beans, along with lingerie addicts along with pretty much any different thing you can love along with want to talk to different people about. Like so much else on the internet, they are affinity groups — either geographically or culturally — along with when a group gets too big, or too broad, This specific’ll divide itself into something that will feels more intimate. Take podcast groups: They’ll form around a particular show (Who? Weekly, My Favorite Murder, Forever35, Binge Mode), then divide further around identity along with affinity (“Forever35 Travel,” “Forever35 Sober,” “Forever35 Work through Home”).

For many of the dozens of people who told me about their favorite groups, the best ones — the ones that will keeps you tethered to a social media platform you otherwise loathe — are hyperspecific: There’s a “radically inclusive sewing group,” which one member describes as “helping folks who sew learn about their biases along with get kinder along with smarter about how they relate to each different.” One woman told me about a group rooted in posting anti-gentrification memes, where conversations focus on systemic injustice in city planning. Another described a secret group of people who live in deep “red” areas of the country along with struggled with their communities along with families after the 2016 election. “This specific’s been the only thing keeping me sane,” the member told me, “along with definitely one of the main reasons I haven’t left FB.”

There’s a group for single parents in academia, along with freelance women inside film industry, along with ex-evangelicals, along with fashion historians, along with adoptive mothers, along with trans along with nonbinary comedians, along with women who’ve appeared on Jeopardy, who offer advice on how different women can protect themselves through the attention along with abuse that will can come following their appearance on the show.

For people (or parents of children) with specific diseases or disabilities, there’s almost certainly a group for that will. “I’m in a chronic disease group,” one woman told me, “along with the mods are pretty serious along with we’re all working on our ableist language, so there are gentle call outs along with lots of content warnings. I’m in medicine, so This specific can be a precious space for me to be a ‘sick’ person along with have that will be a part of my identity. I don’t post often about my own shit, yet I treasure having a space where I can along with I sometimes feel my medical knowledge can be helpful there in a way I don’t always experience in my actual job.”

Part of the pleasure of participating in a group — as opposed to simply lurking — can be the invitation to offer advice. In her piece on watching brand-new baby photos pop up in her regular feed, Meaghan O’Connell wrote, “I feel full of affection along with compassion along with nostalgia, followed quickly by a vexing, almost irrepressible desire to be consulted.” She connects the feeling to Paul Ford’s overarching theory of online behavior: “Humans have a fundamental need to be consulted, engaged, to exercise their knowledge (thereby power), along with no different medium that will came before has been able to tap into that will as effectively.”

Which helps explain endless answers on Quora threads, 1000-word TripAdvisor reviews, along with what O’Connell finds herself both craving along with dreading: the conversation that will somehow devolves under an innocuous post about a baby not sleeping, which ends with dozens of women arguing with one another about sleep training. Because the truth can be that will as much as you love your friends, or your extended family, or your former high school teacher, you often don’t actually want their advice. This specific’s too tinted with emotional connection along with prejudice, on both ends.

“I’m in a super-secret FB group for parents along with caregivers who aren’t assholes,” one woman told me. “You have to be invited by somebody inside group along with everyone can be definitely definitely selective in who’s invited. The very clearly stated ethos can be that will there’s no judgment. If you read something along with feel judge-y…do not comment. Just leave This specific. along with people definitely do. The result can be a group where people can talk openly along with honestly about their parenting issues — struggles along with joys.”

Often, what you actually want can be an authoritative stranger, responding to your specific query, speaking through their experience, yet with no strings attached, no connections, no fear of seeing them inside grocery store along with them asking if you took their advice. The opposite, in different words, of the rest of the Facebook feed.

This specific’s unclear how teens — along with the currently-twentysomething young millennials — perceived Facebook’s toxicity before the rest of us. Maybe they just saw that will the service they joined as middle schoolers facilitated a middle school–level of discourse. Maybe they understood, in that will uniquely teen way, that will any place adults were was one where you’d never actually be free — especially through the surveilling eyes of future colleges along with employers. The risks of posting about themselves were made vivid in way that will the rest of us, who only risked inadvertently giving over all of our personal information, felt free to ignore.

Many of the younger generation might still have Facebook accounts, yet usage has dropped off a cliff. Many have found digital community elsewhere: For one microgeneration, This specific’s on Snap, for another, This specific’s on Instagram, both of which make This specific easy to create subgroups along with chats. There was Vine; currently there’s TikTok. For the approximate Facebook Group experience, there’s Reddit — a site until recently so old-school that will even those of us who came up with the old-school internet didn’t definitely understand how to use This specific.

For many older millennials, Gen X’ers, along with boomers, there’s a massive barrier to entry into these communities. For most, even Twitter can be a bridge too far, along with the vast majority of our beloved blogs are currently dead. yet Facebook — that will’s easy. Our kids might not be on there, yet, for better or worse, our peers still are. This specific may have taken a decade for nearly everyone in our age group to join, yet currently, they’re embedded. Nonprofit employees told me This specific’s the only way they reach their clients. Some school groups use This specific exclusively to communicate with parents. For many organizations along with activists, This specific’s the only reliable way to announce along with invite people to an event. This specific’s an address book, a photo archive, a memory box — not to mention one’s primary news source, along with the portal to the rest of the internet.

For most, even Twitter can be a bridge too far, along with the vast majority of our beloved blogs are currently dead. yet Facebook — that will’s easy.

yet This specific’s also a cesspool. To avoid This specific, you learn how to strategically block along with hide people, how to stymie the stupefying, ever-changing algorithm by marking certain pages “See First,” how to erase your entire profile along with navigate directly to your groups. I’ve heard these tactics referred to as “Facebook hacks,” yet they’re definitely way to counter the worst, along with strongest, inclinations of the platform — a means to see what you actually want to see, not what Facebook has decided you want to see; how to actually “connect,” instead of Facebook attempting to connect you, again along with again, with the conversations generating the most “conversation,” which can be often the most toxicity.

When Facebook announced its switch in mission at the “Communities Summit” in June 2017, This specific flew in dozens of group moderators through across the earth, each which has a story of how their group had changed them along with the earth. yet like so much else to do with Facebook, Zuckerberg’s announcement — or at least the announced means of achieving the goal — fundamentally misunderstood what people actually wanted through Facebook. The plan can be to use the algorithm to improve group suggestions for users — which might work if you only like, say, dog groups, yet won’t work if you are a human being with interests that will defy machine learning.

What would certainly actually make groups more alluring — along with more valuable to users — would certainly be to improve their usability, along with their application to different parts of users’ lives. Some functions, like the ability to search previous posts, have admittedly increased. yet larger improvements would certainly include functions like doing This specific easy to contact members off of Facebook — say, through email — which remain anathema to Facebook’s business type. Facebook wanted increased connection, yet exclusively through Facebook, along with exclusively on Facebook’s terms.

Another improvement that will would certainly make people engage in groups more? Actually surfacing that will group’s content in your feed — regardless of whether or not you’ve engaged. This specific’s an idea that will’s deeply antithetical to Facebook, along with yet precisely what many users want. Sometimes a post in my group will reach 100,000-plus people through shares along with “impressions.” different posts, for no reason I can discern, different than not as many people clicking on This specific within 10 minutes of posting, will reach only 0 people — in a group, again, of at least 42,000. This specific’s the age-old problem of the algorithm: This specific gives us so little credit about what we actually want to see along with read. This specific indulges our worst internet selves instead of respecting our best internet intentions.

Part of what people like about groups can be just…reading them. You could call This specific lurking, or you could call This specific learning through others. I have friends who spend their lunch hours or breastfeeding time navigating directly to a page along with reading This specific in a big gulp, the way we used to read blogs, or Google Reader. (yet again: They have to strong-arm Facebook into letting them use the platform the way they want to use This specific.)

For others, what they definitely like about their groups, what definitely seems to feel helpful along with generous along with supportive, can be when members are given the opportunity to be authorities on our own lives along with experiences — something that will may be absent through one’s offline life. “I’m part of two secret groups,” one woman told me, “one for moms along with one for ministers. They’ve become an important community for me along which has a safe/non-judgemental space to tell the truth about how hard both those jobs are.”

Keeping a group secret can be the most efficient way to keep a group “in line,” whatever that will might mean for a particular set of people.

yet as This specific same woman points out, “most mom groups (along with many professional groups!) are toxic garbage, so the fact that will these AREN’T like that will can be precisely what makes them special.” Keeping a group secret can be the most efficient way to keep a group “in line,” whatever that will might mean for a particular set of people. In larger, more public groups, civility along with supportiveness are maintained by set rules along with attentive moderators, or “mods.”

“Every time I join a FB group, I’m struck by the rules, which are almost always VERY progressive,” one avid FB group member, who also belongs to my own FB group, said. “Mods do NOT put up with any transphobia. I would certainly expect that will in something like This specific group maybe, yet This specific’s less expected in This specific Cat can be C H O N K Y along with different similar silly, nonpolitical groups. This specific definitely sets groups apart through the rest of FB, which can be of course a toilet.”

Of course, there are hundreds of thousands of Facebook groups out there that will don’t work This specific way. Places where freedom to speak one’s truth solidifies anti-vax along with anti-science stances. Conspiracy groups. Flat Earth groups. Groups for fans of Alex Jones. Groups for Gay Anti-SJW Free Speechers. Most people which has a positive group experience have observed different ones that will turned bad — comment threads that will went far off the rails, schisms that will broke the group into pieces, mods who burned out. Trolls invade, or the group loses the intimacy that will made This specific meaningful inside first place.

None of those phenomena are unique to Facebook. After all, the things people love about these groups are the same things that will drew early internet users to bulletin boards, chat rooms, fan pages, along with list serves: connection around ideas along with identities that will are often difficult to find, or at least difficult to find en masse, in your offline life. Before the internet, people worked harder to find affinity groups, yet they still found them — even if This specific meant placing ads in esoteric trade magazines along with becoming pen pals, or showing up for Toastmasters, or quilting club, or genealogy class all by yourself.

Moving those spaces through the analog to the digital realm has made them less risky along with more accessible, decreasing the friction of “joining” yet also the necessary investment. Sure, Facebook requires use of a “real” name. yet the freedoms that will accompany interaction with strangers are the same ones that will facilitate abuse. Part of the reason women who’ve been on Jeopardy need a Facebook support group, after all, can be because Facebook itself made This specific so easy for abusers to find them.

The “best” groups are the smallest along with most secret because they’re cloaked through both the online along with offline world — places where both myself along with so many of the women I spoke to just for This specific article feel invisible, unvalued, or objectified. The right group can provide the opposite of all that will: a place where your voice feels visible, your opinion can be valued, along with your body can be secondary — or discussed on your own terms.

the 1st time someone posted a picture of themselves in one of my groups, asking for specific makeup advice, I cringed: This specific woman has no idea what she’s getting into. To post a picture of oneself on the internet — especially inside hyperpublic realm of the internet I usually frequent — can be to invite abuse for the rest of your online life. yet I was the one who didn’t realize what I was getting into: namely, a very lovely thread offering advice on blush coloration.

This specific feels revelatory, like daring to read a comments section along with finding a thoughtful exchange, or daring to open your Instagram “different” message folder along with not finding an individual guy calling you a cuntbag. When people talk about the joys of groups, they’re talking about the pleasures of animal photos along with wry commentary along with advice, yet they’re also talking about the ability to access those things without wading through cesspools of misleading advertising, scams, along with assholes.

yet nontoxic spaces on the internet shouldn’t be so rare along with precious that will we maintain accounts with companies that will exploit our trust along with personal information inside name of unfettered growth. Facebook created the type of social networking that will currently serves as the framework for the internet at large — a type that will has facilitated, centralized, along with amplified abuse. What’s fucked up, along with yet so deeply Facebook, can be that will This specific simultaneously monopolized the main means of taking shelter through This specific. ●