Facebook Groups: Community or Conditioning?

Post updated August 9, 2020

Have you ever felt like virtual groups you joined to lift you up and support you were actually having the opposite effect? When I was pregnant with my first child and struggling as a first-time mom, I found amazing support on Facebook from breastfeeding groups, to cloth diapering groups, to local parent support groups, and numerous pages and blogs in between ready and willing to answer all my questions.

Navigating the waters of motherhood would have proved a lot more difficult without them.

Lately, however, I’ve been searching for connection and not just information—what with the current world situation and finding myself at home with two small kids more often than ever before.

This virtual sisterhood that I’ve come to cherish over the last five years has recently been bringing me down, and I wanted to share my struggles with you.

One particular Facebook Group that I joined a few years back, which I believed would help me create the type of homelife I desire, has turned out to be a scary place to hangout. Whereas the group’s title is exactly what I thought I was seeking, the conversations held there—especially this year—have not reflected the group’s name. It feels like the group is being shaped or molded by the moderators and admins. More and more, I’m beginning to wonder if this is because it’s an American election year.

The group is a “moms” group. It is international, with members from around the world, but its membership is predominately American. It’s supposed to support spirituality and the crunchy kind of lifestyle I dabble with in different forms.

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve seen this group’s message become more and more narrow. Diverse voices from women of color were being silenced in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, the subsequent demonstrations and riots, and Blackout Tuesday. Sadly, many women left the group during this time.

Contrary opinions by group members in response to politically persuasive posts were being deleted by moderators, even if the comments were backed up with facts. In various posts where a mom would ask for honest opinions from fellow members regarding specific public figures, any criticisms that differed from the majority opinion were immediately addressed by the group admin or moderators with sugary sweet aggression. Basically, “agree or be quiet, please.”

At first, I felt like this was being done to help keep the peace. We’ve all seen these sorts of groups get out of hand with drama at times. Unfortunately, I kept seeing certain voices silenced and other voices amplified, certain messages promoted and other messages removed as the conversations were clearly being steered. All this within a moms support group.

Right now in my MFA studies, I’m taking a Communications class and a Marketing class in addition to my Creative Writing studies. Both classes outside my core curriculum address the social media landscape. The COMs class is teaching students how to identify “fake news” and judge various content on the Web for hidden bias and overall accuracy. With the help of this course, I can easily put a name on what has been lost by this moms group little by little this year, and that is objectivity.

“Objectivity is the extent to which material expresses facts or information without distortion by personal feelings or other biases.”

-M.A. Tate in Web Wisdom, 3rd Ed., 2018.

The Marketing class is teaching students how to sell a brand or message online and engage readers, especially via social media. It also extrapolates on the power of social media as a social change agent, if a business or organization can foster a sense of community. This class helps me to see exactly the type of member shaping and conditioning that is taking place within the Facebook Group I’ve been discussing–and it’s disturbing.

There are studies of Facebook Groups being created or infiltrated specifically with community shaping in mind, because Facebook is where people hangout most online and can be influenced. 

This moms group is large–a couple thousand followers–and new members are added daily. I’m distressed by the fact that, amid the childcare and faith dialogue, these unsuspecting members are being (very politely) force-fed a politically-charged message by a seemingly benign group, which flaunts a name that in my opinion does not reflect the hidden undercurrent being peddled.

When I wrote to a moderator concerning her deletion of a few comments in a thread promoting a controversial figure in the news today, she was unreceptive and could not explain her moderation actions, which were not a reflection of group established rules. When I then turned to the group administrator asking about these censorship tactics, I received no answer at all.

Here is a small excerpt from my private message to her: “I have offered differing opinions in the past on certain issues and never been censored. This [new] practice is not conducive to open and honest discussion and I find it disturbing that this group attempts to steer group opinion [in] a very singular direction. I agree on so many topics and support so much of what this group stands for, but I don’t let any one group dictate to me how I shall think or feel. Are you attempting to create a safe space here, or not?”

The truth is, I’m not looking to be politically persuaded by a Facebook Group of moms that is supposed to be trading in motherly and spiritual support. I understand the need to vent frustrations over current events, but the political stance held by the administrator and the moderators is getting so apparent, I’m beginning to wonder if someone is getting paid to spin the message.

There are plenty of Facebook Groups for politics. There are Facebook Groups for professionals to network. There are Facebook Groups for learning a new trade, or new diet, or new hobbie. Facebook even opened an avenue for businesses to create groups that could foster customer feedback and can help determine the future of the brand–you know, since mall surveys are pretty much a thing of the past. 

When we join those sorts of professional or business groups, though, we do so freely with a good sense of what to expect, since the message is more straightforward. I love some of the new writer’s groups I’ve joined recently.

However, in friendly support groups regarding personal topics like these moms groups, it begins to feel more like a meet up with confidants. We get really personal sometimes. If the group fosters a supportive vibe, sometimes it’s the only place some mothers can open up about private issues. I can’t believe this group that I cherished could become so skewed so quickly.

Is it a reflection of a politically polarised society at large? I don’t know.

From now on, I’m going to be a lot more cautious of these types of groups and their thinly-veiled ulterior motives. The world is divided enough without a support group of Christian mothers being conditioned to take a side.

Seek unity, friends! …and continue mothering humanity.

Luv&Hugs,

*Kristine*

Featured Image Photo courtesy of Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

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