Songs for the Struggling Artist


Is It More Than a Thousand?
January 30, 2018, 12:43 am
Filed under: Feldenkrais, music, podcasting, Social Media | Tags: , , , ,

A podcast I’m a fan of had a Facebook group and on the show they were often talking about what a lovely group it was and how the people on it were the best, so I joined it. It was a place where women asked each other questions, where they vented about sexism they ran into and shared stories. It was a feminist space where you could sensibly participate in a conversation about vibrators without batting an eye. It was pretty cool.

As the podcast became more popular, the group got bigger. And slowly but surely the group became more and more contentious until eventually they shut the whole thing down. A lot of people were shocked but I could see it coming from a mile away. While many mourned the dissolution of their “safe space,” I’d known from the beginning that no space is truly safe on social media. I know enough about the way these companies operate to know that anything I post could become public – that anything I post is really Facebook’s property, not mine. Sometimes these kinds of groups are fun but they’re never truly safe. (This skepticism may be a property of my Gen X identity.) And something I’ve noticed about on-line spaces is that the bigger the group, the less civil people become.

I don’t know what the civility threshold is on a Facebook group – but I suspect it’s somewhere around a thousand people. Once it gets bigger, somehow someone is always going to be offended and then pile-ons ensue. It doesn’t have to be ABOUT anything in particular – it could be something small – but after a thousand people are in the room, it’s bound to happen.

This happened recently on a professional group I’m a part of (2,735 members in the group.) Someone asked for tips about how to deal with a particular brand of troll and I offered a suggestion of a metaphor which featured classical music. And before I could blink, angry comments started to spew. There was a pile-on of angry classical musicians like you would not believe. The last I checked on this post, someone had said, “I find this metaphor offensive.” Which you know, I’d understand if I’d said classical music is dog poop and anyone who plays it is stupid. But I did not say that. Nor did I intend anything of the sort. (Some of my best friends are classical musicians!) All I said was that the Alexander Technique might be said to be more like classical music and the Feldenkrais Method might be said to be more like jazz. It’s not a particularly controversial thing to say. Unless you’re in a social media group of over a thousand when everything is potentially controversial and pile-ons seem to happen all the time.

In this case, too, I noticed on this thread that two comments down from me, a man had used this same analogy – but curiously, his post received no angry responses. So…I have to assume that this issue may be gendered. It did not escape my attention that every angry response was from a woman and that none of them challenged the man who had asserted the identical metaphor.

Now – here’s what I’m wondering. Is it possible for groups of over a thousand people to be productive and civil? And what happens to large groups of women in particular? Why is this devolution of civility so common?

A misogynist might say that women are petty or get upset about nothing. And my own inner misogynist thinks that very thing about all those women who were mean to me without even knowing me!

But. If I pull back my focus and look at the big picture…I think of this situation as a plugged up sprinkler. Like, the sprinkler is full of fury and if it’s thwarted, if all of its outlets are stopped, it’ll shoot that fury out of the side of the hose or wherever it can find a crack. When I’m feeling generous, I can see these dumb responses this way, as just misplaced fury – and women sometimes shoot their anger onto other women because they’re afraid to express it to men. They’re mad at me about my classical music metaphor because they can’t go yell at Harvey Weinstein or whomever the Weinstein figure of classical music is.

Or maybe it isn’t gendered – and any group of more than a thousand is just bound to devolve into constant spats. I don’t know. It’s a new world. These are not problems we had twenty years ago.

But I’d love to read any sociological studies about groups like this. There is probably a predictable formula for when people start to behave badly. I think it might help us all to know what that formula is. As for me, since I get knots in my stomach in response to conflict, I’ve just unfollowed pretty much every large group I’ve been a part of. And I breathe a LOT more easily now.

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