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Why Facebook community groups can be bad for you

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Times are a-changing: There are more people, living closer together than ever before. Yet, we do not talk to each other. When I sit on my patio I know which neighbour is talking by identifying his voice,  yet I do not know any of my neighbours by name or face.

To make us all feel better and like we are still capable of human relationships we turn to social media sites like Facebook and the communities established there.

I won’t reveal my location, nor the community page I am referring to, but can say that it is a large one by any standard. It has close to 50,000 members, and the admin of the community group has developed an app to monetise the access to its audience (I’m guessing, and to what level of success I do not know).

The group’s feed is constantly ticking over with information provided, requested and shared on just about any topic you can think of.

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I am not minimising the positives of social media (I met my current partner online), but I do think that there is a fine line between an enriching experience and a damaging one.

I am a member of a couple of carefully chosen groups focused on specific interests all members should have in common. In these groups there is usually opportunity for discussions, disagreements and a general sharing of information and opinions.

Overall, I can say that my exposure to the people creating most of these specific interest groups has been enriching; I’ve had my mind broadened, would like to think I have contributed to some broadened minds, and made special friendships with people I now see in “real life”. This is, thus, not where my gripe lies.

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The problem comes in when you expose your mind and thoughts to the dribble shared by some individuals on public platforms, where others sharing the original poster’s views on whatever subject can then chime in and just strengthen that misguided, often ignorant viewpoint.

As we all know this past weekend was voter registration weekend. Naturally social media was awash with people threatening to leave the country because of the imminent and horrific doom awaiting us. Others were very loudly proclaiming that they are not interested in any of this and will withhold their vote, all the while politicians where doing what they are supposed to do – canvassing for votes and rallying the public to register.

An EFF tent was pitched outside a well-known, affluent estate, where one member working outside the country posted: “Who knows anything of the EFF tent outside the estate?”

Within seconds people were following the post and publishing shocked and enraged gifs and emoticons – the EFF was land grabbing on a Saturday!

One voice of reason calmly stated that they were working; it is voter registration weekend after all. This member was ridiculed and told to wake up and smell the stink. The ignorance in one post, within 30 minutes, astounded me.

At around about the same time a young lady asked the community to keep an eye out for an admin-focused job opportunity as she wants to move back home after a stint in Scotland. Guess what the overwhelming response to her post was? “Don’t be stupid, stay where you are! There’s nothing but doom and gloom waiting for you here!”

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While I am of the very logical and strong opinion that life in our country is definitely not all doom and gloom, there is quite a bit of gloom going on out there. And while I can’t and never will advocate ignorance on any news and current events I really doubt the necessity, and value, of me having to see videos of children being abused by their parents, old people horribly beaten in house invasions, or terrified dogs abused by despicable humans.

Unfortunately many people in community groups see it as their sole duty in life to ensure that everyone sees these horrible injustices. And many people thrive on seeing and sharing in the anger, disgust and general feeling of “upset-ness”.

So, as long as there’s a market for this kind of content on social media, it’s going to be out there. It’s really up to you to protect your soul and mind of this disturbing content.

While Facebook is working on changing it, the fact of the matter is that right now the content you engage with is the content that is being fed to you. Social media algorithms are designed to “feed” you content similar to the ones you engage with most. So be careful, or you’ll be stuck in a horrible online realm with walls plastered with images of abused animals, senior citizens and children, and one where you live in ignorance and the misguided opinion that your views are correct because “everyone” else shares them and thinks so too.

Expose yourself to different viewpoints and opinions, and engage with this kind of content – we’ll all thank you for it!

Words: Maxine Ridder


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