I was never a Facebook group kinda person. They just didn’t appeal to me. I found more fun and appeal in posting on my wall and having safe and kind interactions with people I knew. I loved how people gushed over my posts and were able to keep up with my personal life through my feed. Facebook was new and I was recovering from Orkut. Instagram wasn’t on the horizon yet.
But then life on my wall became monotonous. It also largely depended on how happening my off-Facebook life was. Memes weren’t that popular in the early 2000’s and therefore whatever engagement happened it was through my pictures and life happenings. Any social drought in my life created a stagnant wall.
A friend added me to a parenting group for mothers. I was reticent to join because I didn’t see how they could be contributing to my life. My daughter was growing up and I was pregnant with my second. I knew most of what I needed to know.
However I joined the group. The group was run by four or five women, all with young children. Usually the bond was created over kids, in-laws and domestic issues. Some women asked how to break back into their professions. It was usually refreshing.
Encouraged by my experience I joined a few more women and mommy groups. I liked the online camaraderie. I liked hearing others’ opinions.
One thing before we go any further! At this point I had been managing a physician group for almost six years and had no idea the type of powers that I had as an admin. I didn’t know I could block, mute or report people.
But joining more Facebook groups didn’t lead to the same experience that I had with the first one. And not because of the members. My non-stimulating experiences were largely because of the administrators and moderators of these groups.
When we join a group online or personally, one hope is usually to learn something. We want to know how the group will contribute to what we do. How it will help us navigate something new! Most groups are joined by people when they’re going through something specific in life. Like after a divorce or death, pregnancy, job loss or when we get a new job, immigration. Joining a group sometimes comes out of necessity. Not all who join these groups are looking for fun.
And let’s accept another well-known phenomenon! Online conversations don’t have the requisite emotions. Most people use emojis wrongly and even the ones who use it right can be perceived as being sarcastic or abrasive or using the emoji as a double entendres.
So when you are writing and expressing within so many limitations, in a language which isn’t your first, using euphemisms that half the population won’t even get depending on their proficiency and prowess of the English language, you are bound to be misunderstood once or twice.
What does that misunderstanding do to you? Yes! You got it! You get muted or blocked.
Muting someone is actually derogatory and almost dictatorial. It is like putting a muzzle on someone’s mouth. It’s like clipping someone’s tongue. It’s like physically shutting someone up. It’s also usually done without any feedback so really this is something that can be as a result of perceived disobedience of the group rules.
Blocking someone is kinda like breaking up with someone over voicemail. No formal warning, no explanation, just an astounding confidence in our decision that a certain person deserves to be kicked out and shunned forever.
Usually both these acts happen when there has been a violation of the rules. But who makes the rules? The admin. The moderators help maintain the rules. Typically Facebook offers a generic set of rules to use for our groups but some admins put in some thought in these and modify them or change them or add to them.
But this is where I’m a little conflicted as to the powers that an admin enjoys and whether those powers are truly in the best interest of anyone, including the admin.
See! Because groups are created by one person usually and then more people join, it is usually groups consisting of like-minded people. These members are usually in support of the admin’s group policies. They agree with everything. Most people are complacent and don’t disagree over minor things. Also, because the initial few are closer to the admin just by virtue of being early members, they usually don’t voice much disagreement. Also, most people say “what’s the big deal if we don’t agree? Doesn’t bother us. Let whatever happen”.
But this is what this type of blind and dumb, and occasionally deaf following can lead to. This is what this virtual power of clearing our life of dissenting voices can do………… It can create an echo chamber.
Imagine if someone agreed with everything you said. They never disagreed. They never raised an opinion that contradicted yours. Imagine that their reason for doing this isn’t that they truly agree with you. Imagine their reason being alienation from their favorite Facebook group. Imagine their fear of losing the engagement that they get on a certain group. Imagine their dependency on this group. Imagine this strong and staunch relationship with people they’ve never even met. Imagine half of these people not even caring if you’re kicked out of their circle. Imagine how measured your response should be, should be measured to the last pinch, before it can be delivered. Feel the suffocation? Feel what the dread of the fear of being kicked out of the group feels like? This isn’t healthy.
I’m not talking about social media. Social media has become synonymous with the virtual world. Social media is actually not all of the virtual world. It’s only a part of it. The virtual world is what I’m talking about. The interaction between people, the power of an admin, the rights that include block and delete and mute and report. We call these online friendships but are they?
Group admins practice a lot of authority. Which I think is right. Groups can be with different motives and can have different levels of sensitive issues that are discussed. There should be a decorum. We can’t just say whatever or ask whatever or believe whatever. But when all that a group admin hears is that they’re right and they’re above any fault, it can cause them to live in an echo chamber. And some people may be okay with that. But this can cause an overinflated ego. And when you step out of the virtual world into the real world? Well, the real world is not an echo chamber.
I think all social media networks should think about this. Humans can become self-centered and self-absorbed very easily. This type of “group mentality” and becoming a leader of sometimes tens of thousands of people can really mess with our minds. It can really make us see things in one color only. It can really put blinders on us and can make us disrespectful of others’ opinion.
Also, if you read the paragraph above where I’ve described how social media and some particular groups may entrance us, imagine the effect on us, the members. We become puppets and followers, hence the term “influencer” for the admins and leaders of these groups.
Recognizing leadership is important in order to feel centered and grounded. But it is important for social media companies to identify groups which are echo chambers and aren’t contributing to our growth and development. Those groups need to go.