Facebook group tyrants

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines (as one possible definition) a tyrant as “one resembling an oppressive ruler in the harsh use of authority or power.”

Over the course of the last ten years or so, I think it’s been that long, I have joined many Facebook groups and created quite a few. I have also left quite a few and was kicked out of a few. When you leave of your own accord it definitely feels better than when you are kicked out. But I am getting ahead of myself. First, let’s look at some very basic facts.

Facebook groups, regardless of the reason Facebook claims to allow them, are set up by individuals with a specific purpose — this person, or group of people, wants to advocate something or share something with a group of like-minded people.

I first joined Facebook, and set up a group, for the sole purpose of providing a way for my college-level students to foster relationships with their peers, practice English (since they were all EFL students or students living in an EFL environment which required testing in English regularly), and ask me questions regarding English outside the classroom. I had seen a colleague have great success and with this so I thought I would give it a try. Long story short, the group grew and interacted without much help, or interference, from me. Over the course of five years or so I noticed that most posts were now in Chinese, most students were not in the foreign language department, and some university administrators had joined the group.

These university administrators were exercising control over students, who they thought crossed the line with posts and comments, by threatening action against the students, at school, for posts being made that were critical of the university or which they deemed were inappropriate.

With over 5,000 members, I decided the group had evolved into something of a behemoth and I needed to take action. When I informed the group members, that I was shutting it down they went ballistic. Posts about this ‘is our group’ and ‘you can’t do that’ soon took over. Quite of few of those who joined after I initially started the group obviously had no idea who had created the group nor had they bothered to check out anything about the group. I could and I did.

This brings up an interesting point and some readers might disagree, but groups on Facebook belong to those who create them, for the most part. This means unless the group is abandoned, that the creator can delete them or exercise absolute authority within the confines of the group. As my mother, and countless others around the world, was fond of saying — “I brought you into this world, I can take you out.” Now she’s older and more mellow. 😉

So I closed the group. It took me an entire weekend. I had to manually remove every member before I could dissolve the group, but I did it. Some students finally did what they should have done in the first place — started a new group for students at the university. While others started offshoots of the one that I ended. Either way, it was over and I was happy. Much happier than I had been in a long time. Having a large group on Facebook is a pain. Some days it seemed like you couldn’t please anyone any of the time. For whatever reason though, I don’t believe that I ever kicked anyone out of the group prior to dissolving the group. I figured that the members of the group could sort things out without me ‘ruling’ over them. During that time, and the time after that, I have discovered that I am more of an exception than the rule.

Nowadays almost every group, if not every one, has a list of rules members can’t violate. They have questions for prospective members to answer before they are judged as worthy to join. Things have changed. Some groups even require members to be active or face getting kicked out. I have joined tons of self-publishing writing groups because, like so many others, I know nothing of self-publishing. I left the US long before self-publishing became the thing to do. I have had the common sense to reduce the number of groups I now belong to to something manageable. I do need to write after all.

I have had pleasurable experiences in these groups, for the most part, but sometimes the list of rules can be daunting. I usually just lurk, but occasionally I make comments. I try to be supportive of aspiring writers, but sometimes I shake my head when I read posts like ‘should I finish high school before I become a writer’ or “what is the difference between past tense and present tense’ or the ever reoccurring, ‘don’t give up writing, anyone can do it’. I am not an egomaniac. I have no reason to be, but I am a bit old fashioned and I did study at the university. But I digress. This is about Facebook tyrants and their groups.

Recently, as many of you know, #cockygate became trending on social media. Well, I say recently, it seems to have just as recently stopped being trending. Perhaps I am the last one to post about it. Anyway, quite a few writers group administrators forbade members from discussing it within their groups. I thought this was a little strange since it obviously affects ALL writers in EVERY genre, but who am I but a member of a group. I didn’t initiate any conversations in any groups; however, to my chagrin later, I did respond to posts regarding it. Within a day or so after said posts I noticed by newsfeed was a little bare on Facebook. I thought nothing of it and kept on working on my manuscripts (I really do hate calling them WIP…I am a writer, I write manuscripts. 😉 ), and didn’t spend much time on Facebook.

I got back on Facebook a few days later and things were still not quite right. At this point, I recalled a particular group that had always been rather active, so I went to check on it. To my surprise, it no longer existed — yes, I am that slow. I immediately asked one of my few writer friends if it had folded. “No, it’s still there,” was her reply. Suddenly I knew what had happened. My comments and opinion concerning #cockygate had gotten me banned (and blocked) from the group. According to my newsfeed, a few groups it seems. But of course, I really don’t care (and didn’t care then). There is no group on Facebook that is essential to my livelihood or well-being regardless of how indispensable they may think they are. I just thought it was a little rash. Since then I have went back to clarify things with other writers groups I am in. Sure enough, most of them, in their voluminous listings of rules, clearly state they can, and obviously will, kick you out of the group WITHOUT WARNING for any violation as they deem fit.

At this point in my musing, I am reminded of the time I got kicked out of a violin players group. It was early days and I had been up most of the night. I was awoken by a beep indicating a post on Facebook. It seemed a young lady was afraid she hadn’t been practicing enough. I posted ‘a little bit every day is enough’. Someone, I didn’t recognize, immediately posted ‘no, you should practice religiously, even if you are sick, for hours every day. Still asleep, I responded something like ‘are you daft? we play because we love it, not to torture ourselves’. In a matter of seconds, literally, she came back with, and yes, I do remember clearly, ‘you sound like a troll’. Of course, I couldn’t respond because she was an administrator, I found out later, and had kicked me out. I learned at this point two very important things  (for some reason I had never thought of earlier) — ‘troll’ means ‘anyone who disagrees with you’ and groups belong to the administrators (and creator, usually) not the members.

There have also been several groups that I voluntarily left as soon as I realized that an administrator was going to question every single post anyone ever made or disagreeing with the accepted hive wisdom was cause for removal.

Basically, we need to remember Facebook groups can be started by anyone, for any reason — even to feed their ever-hungry egos AND, unless you start your own, you will always be at the mercy of the administrators. I do advise, if you make any friends in a group, you should make sure you have some way to contact them IF you or they are removed from the group. Once you are out of the group, I think your posts are inaccessible so they won’t be able to track you down.

I have always been a staunch advocate of seeing out alternatives to social media groups. I don’t like the idea of putting ‘all my eggs in one basket’. Yes, new social media outlets take time to get used to, you will need to make new friends (unless some of your old ones follow you), but they can be exciting new adventures. Just be careful of joining new groups! 😉



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