On a social network that is increasingly antisocial, Facebook groups may be our only hope

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I often find more value in a community of strangers than I do in one of friends. After a decade or so of collecting friends and adherents across social sites, thoughtful and important information can be lost in the noise of trending topics and the internet equivalent of television static, content presented by algorithm manipulating our feeds, displayed between Live videos and vacation Instagrams.

The noise can become tiring, prompting a desire to seek out spaces where voices, insights, and interests have value, and where others, both friends and strangers, can come together to share them.

Facebook groups are something of a respite from the loud and often overwhelming deluge of information we get on Facebook and other social platforms. Each day when I login to the social network, I check my groups.

There are two groups I visit daily, together with a handful I check periodically or when I get a notification. Sometimes I lurk and sometimes I post. But inevitably I find my groups more entertaining and interesting than my news feed.

For journalist Taylor Lorenz, inventor of the happiness and wellness group Hapwell, Facebook groups are a place for her to connect with people who share the same interests. Groups have usurped Twitter as the online platform she visits to chat, share connects, and make friends.

Facebookgroups are something of a respite from the loud and often overwhelming deluge of information we get on Facebook and other social platforms .

“As Facebook’s news feed has become crowded by publisher links, viral clips, and an endless creek of miserable Facebook Live videos, Facebook groups have become the only style that I can reliably reach my friends, ” Lorenz said in an email. “It’s sort of a way to manually target your audience instead of relying on Facebook’s flawed algorithm. I’m in one group with friends, Secret Article Club, where we just share news narratives all day. We know that if all of us posted these stories to the main feed, they’d get lost, but this route we can all actually share and chat about that day’s events collectively.”

Forming semi-private communities around ideas and interests online has existed since humen connected to the internet. Bulletin board systems were the precursors to social networking platforms we use today; not to mention Yahoo Groups, still used by millions, with everything from passive-aggressive advice to offers of free home decor.

But as Myspace, Facebook, and Twitter blossomed, we naturally began to open up our social networks to, well, everyone. Our personal identities were tied to our posts, photos, and information in a much more intimate style. No longer were we just an email or a screen name; we were people whose offline and online communities coalesced into internet spaces.

We added friends from high school and college, parents’ friends, long-lost cousins, random people we met at a bar that one time and naively thought we’d be friends with again. Through these expanding “friendships, ” social networks became saturated with different faiths, ideas, and content. Now, years later, the relationships we have with people we are friends with online may not represent any qualities of a real friendship, and yet they remain.

Paradoxically, expanding networks can feel increasingly disconnected from the people, info, ideas, and notions that make us social beings. And that’s exactly why groups, communities built around individual topics, may feel like they’re seeing a resurgence. We’re reconnecting with the identities that have dissolved into a feed which merely displays a tiny fraction of what we share to our friends.

“If you notice Facebook is operating on the fact were not sharing just as much as we used to, that in itself is proof people are going to groups to share what they want to share and maintain private info private, ” Shireen Mitchell, web developer and social strategist, said in an interview. “Its clear for people that some of the things they want to talk about are controversial. Weve find people lose chores over things they posted on Facebook.”

Over-sharing fatigue is real. People are reportedly sharing significantly less personal updates to news feeds on Facebook. It could be why our feeds are filled with Live video, memes, news articles, and photos while intimate details are scarce. According to a Pew Internet study, people are less likely to share information on social networks if they think their audience won’t agree with them, and are more willing to discuss controversial topics in person than online.

Controversial or not, sharing things you care about with your news feed can be deflating when no one is there to engage with it. For instance, I’m an active person and love is speaking to operating or yoga. Most of my friends don’t have a similar lifestyle, so when I post an article or video about these activities, it rarely determines an audience on my news feed. But when I post in my private yoga group on Facebook, dozens of people are similarly eager to discuss the information.

When I asked fellow Hapwell members what they use groups for, the responses were similar to my own experiences: To remain connected to subcultures, to engage with local neighborhoods and communities, to find amusement, and to share information and advice with professional peers.

Often, these groups can translate to offline interactionssome people in my yoga group have gone on retreats together, or visited one another while on vacation in different cities around the world. For Lorenz, Facebook groups became a lifeline when she moved to Baltimore; someone added her to a group of media professionals, and her social circles quickly expanded.

Controversial or not, sharing things you care about with your news feed are likely to be deflating when no one is there to engage with it .

“I was able to make a whole new group of friends through the group, ” she said. “It wasn’t long before I began joining tons more Facebook groups around Baltimore. I received new events to attend that were shared or hosted by the Facebook groups I participate in and have attained countless IRL friendships.”

Groups are helpful for interacting with folks who share similar interests and identities, but they’re also imperfect for the same reason. Self-made filter bubbles can mean we’re missing out on information and ideas different from our own.

“What we end up doing is what we do in our social surrounding, ” Mitchell said. “We end up hanging out with people who believe like us, who watch things from our perspective, come from our backgrounds and environment, and thats what some of these groups do. They allow people to stay in that bubble of their world, whether its offline or online.”

That isn’t to say all groups are beneficial; every network has spam. Allyson Kapin, founder of Women Who Tech, says groups that don’t have moderators who audit what people post often become self-promotional content dumps, losing what benefit they had in the first place.

To combat dissolution of value and amusement, many groups implement regulations, and moderators can decide what content is let in the working group. Structural feedback isn’t merely set aside for professional networkingone of my favorite groups, Useless, Unsuccessful, and/ or Unpopular Memes, a nonsensical group of memes with over 140,000 members, has a long and detailed rulebook.

Yes, even memes have rules within Facebook’s walled garden.

Mitchell watches the formation of groupson Facebook, in messaging apps, and social-chat hybrids like Slackas a style of returning to the closed surroundings we cultivated before oversharing became a buzzword and “real names, “ became a controversy.

“Youve widened your net to see what kind of people were out there, to assure who you like and didnt like, then you handpicked from the net to say, ‘Hey, come to this group so we can all have a private conversation, ‘” Mitchell said.

We self-select to rid ourselves of the noise that’s become too loud. To find solace from exploding watermelons, vitriolic status updates, and marriage announcements from people we haven’t been talking to in a decade. And to discover voices we haven’t yet heard, or those that get lost among the raucous.

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