Saturday, May 21, 2022

The Growing Pains of a Facebook Group

The biggest problem with Facebook groups is that the wrong people join them.  Any group with a name featuring a genre (teen books, series books) is a difficult group to manage due to members' loose interpretation of the group's name.

Groups that have specific names (Stephen King, Nancy Drew, Sweet Valley High, etc.) do not have as much of a problem with maintaining their focus.  All members understand the focus, so off-topic posts are kept to a minimum.

In my post from March 8, I explained what I had done to make the focus of the Collecting Vintage Children's Series Books and Vintage Teen Books groups more clear.  My efforts appeared to be working, since membership requests had fallen dramatically.  Now some 2 1/2 months later, I can report that the changes I made continue to greatly suppress the membership requests.  In the Collecting group, membership requests are down by 73.1%.  In the Vintage Teen Books group, membership requests are down by 77.42%. 

While series books and/or vintage teen books are important to the people in our collecting community, they are of little concern to the general public.  It never made sense for 50 to 100 (or more) people to join each group per week.  At least that part of the problem has been solved.  

The Collecting group has been a big problem for years, but it has calmed down and is not as much of a problem as it once was.  We firmly control what we allow to be posted to the group, and we are no longer being harassed by certain manipulative people. 

I wrote in early March that I didn't want the Vintage Teen Books group to follow the same path as the Collecting group.  Sadly, that is exactly what has happened.  The Vintage Teen Books group is now the bigger problem.  The Vintage Teen Books group is now where the Collecting group was around five to six years ago.

The Vintage Teen Books group is at the stage where members criticize the moderator (me) and nitpick everything that the moderator says or does.  Oh, such fun.  This takes a lot out of a person.

I rejected a post in the Vintage Teen Books group, received a rude response, and then posted about it, thinking that I could use the situation as a teaching moment.  That was a big mistake.  Here is the text of my post.

A post featuring books written by Cynthia Voigt and Ellen Conford was submitted to the group yesterday. I was unfamiliar with the books and felt that the covers of some of them were ambiguous as to the age of the characters.

I took the time to look up the books by title and author and found summaries. I do not reject posts without being absolutely certain that some books don't fit. I found that a number of the books did not feature characters in their late teens.

I rejected the post with this reason: "Several of these books do not feature high school or college age teens. For that reason, we must decline the post. Resubmit with only books featuring older teens, and we can approve the post. Thanks!"

Today that person sent this response: "Posts are being declined because they’re not high school age. Ellen concord and Cynthia voigt are ALL high school. This page blows. Peace."

That person has left the group, which is a shame since they were mistaken.

These are the books that caused the post to be rejected. After the title, I have stated the age or grade of the main characters.

Ellen Conford:  Dreams of Victory (6th grade), Anything for a Friend (age 11); Hail, Hail Camp Timberwood (age 13), And This Is Laura (age 12)

Cynthia Voigt:  Bad Girls (5th grade), Bad Girls in Love (8th grade)

The other books in the post were fine and would have been great for the group.

We cannot approve posts that contain any books with characters who are 13 or younger. If we let the middle-grade books begin to sneak back in, they will take over the group. Thank you for your understanding.

After reading my post, a few people gave their opinion on the rules.  One person wrote that they posted about some of Voigt's middle-grade books in a teen group and that the post was well-received because of how they explained the differences between the teen and middle-grade books.

I replied to the comment as follows.  "When all members understand the group's focus, then this approach works just fine and is certainly what I wish we could do here.  I estimate that this group has between 500 and 1,000 members who don't understand the intent of this group."

Another person told me that some book groups allow off-topic posts that are tied to the main topic and that this works just fine.  This person suggested that we should focus on enjoying the posts and that we shouldn't focus on rules.  They said that focusing on rules takes away the fun, and people get along better when they don't have to worry about rules.

I'd certainly enjoy driving better if I didn't have to stop at any traffic lights.

I replied, "This approach is what I would prefer and wish that we could do here.  Earlier on, I let people post about other books.  The group quickly veered off towards favoring the other books.  We have between 500 and 1,000 members in this group who don't understand this group's focus.  Unfortunately, I have no choice but to enforce the focus, or we will lose the group's focus."

Someone else made this lovely comment:  "Sounds like you have a stick up your ass.  Try to relax and breath.  Life shouldn't be so serious all the time.  These rules are retarded."

Yet another member has had a problem with my use of "vintage" ever since she joined the group, and her complaint came up again via this discussion.  She says that books 20 to 40 years old are not vintage and that the books we discuss in the group are not old enough.  I have explained to her before that vintage means "dating from the past" (Merriam-Webster).  I finally got through to her this time, and she left the group.

And another member really took me to task, relentlessly so.  This person said that the focus of the group is wrong.  (Consider that the focus of any group is what the creator of the group says that it is.  How can it be wrong?)  This person told me that children often read books featuring characters who are older than them.  A child of 10 might read Sweet Valley High.  Therefore, all books that a 10 year old might read should be within the group's focus, according to this person.

I was informed that my definition of high school is wrong.  In some countries, high school starts at an earlier age than what it does in the United States.  Furthermore, my use of high school is apparently confusing since "junior high school" has "high school" as part of the name.

The books we discuss were published in the United States for people who live in the United States.  My definition of high school matches what is in the books featured in the group.  My definition isn't wrong.  However, I now know never to mention high school again.  I must focus on the age of the characters.

I was also told by this person that they would have been hurt and confused by the post rejection, since my response was "nitpicky, impersonal, and unwelcoming."  (It should be noted that the person who is accusing me of being "nitpicky" is doing exactly that to me in this and subsequent comments mentioned below.)

I replied as follows. 

"Much thought goes into everything I do and say.  No matter how I phrase the post rejection, it is simply that: a rejection.  It's going to sting no matter what.  I can't avoid that.

The focus of this group is not based on the age at which the books were read.  That varies from person to person, and it is true that most people read books featuring older characters.

The focus of this group is on books that feature older teenagers, ages 15 to 19."

This person then told me that the post rejection wouldn't sting if my wording were improved.  I was told that my response (see immediately above) ignored most of what they wrote.  Also, I was bragging, making a "false assertion about other people's feelings," and denying "any responsibility for being nicer."

Okay then.  I guess I got told.  

Why would someone think it worthwhile to try to make a moderator change how they phrase a post rejection?  The advice was not helpful in the slightest.  I have no idea how I can make sure that a post rejection doesn't offend the recipient.  

I can tell you what I do know.  As moderators continue to have members that break rules, question the rules, send insults, and nitpick, they become increasingly impersonal and unwelcoming.  They care less and less what members think and sometimes end up hating their own groups. 

I do still care, but I don't care as much as I once did.  I don't hate my groups, but I sometimes don't like them.

I cannot worry about how every single person will feel in every single situation.  I cannot carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. 

Yet some people expect me to do exactly that.

My least favorite activity as group moderator is having to reject posts that are off-topic or break group rules.  How dare someone try to put a guilt trip on me for how I rejected a post when I already find post rejection to be very unpleasant.  So now I find post rejection even more unpleasant than I did a few weeks ago.  How dare they do that to me.

I decided to end the discussion in the Vintage Teen Books group since it was going in a bad direction.  I removed the comments that I felt were attempting to undermine me and then closed commenting on the post.  I felt vaguely uneasy afterwards and remain a bit so.  That's the best I can do at describing it.  

I feel uneasy because most people in groups lurk and do not comment.  Since a number of people came forth on this post to criticize my actions in some fashion, I feel like many other people must feel the same way.  I feel like many members must think something is wrong with me.

I understand that the real problem is that these people think that children's, middle-grade, and teen books are all the same.  This was caused by a reference book and a prominent Facebook group lumping them together as if one genre. 

A 10-year-old girl who is beginning to like boys is not at all the same as a sixteen-year-old girl in a relationship.  I am not interested in the trials and tribulations of a 10-year-old girl.  I only wish to see the books featuring older teens.  

There is nothing wrong with that.  Hundreds of people joined the group thinking that all children's books are teen books.  I can't do anything about that, but I will not approve posts outside of what I envisioned for the group.  I hope in time that more of the people who don't like the focus will leave the group, even if they fling insults at me while leaving.  The group will be better once fewer people in the group are mistaken about the focus.

I wanted to prevent the Vintage Teen Books group from taking the same trajectory as the Collecting Vintage Children's Books group.  The Collecting group was fine at first, then more people joined.  In time, people began taking the group off-topic.  I redirected them, and people voiced their disapproval.  

That's where we are right now in the Vintage Teen Books group.  It has taken the same path as the Collecting group, with increasing problems.  However, the Vintage Teen Books group should stabilize faster than the Collecting group did, since I will stand firm in my vision for the group and will not allow myself to be manipulated like I was in the Collecting group.  

In the Collecting group, we have had lingering problems due to manipulation by a few members.  We have moved past that, for the most part.  The Collecting group is doing overall okay, even though we continue to have to decline quite a few posts and will always have a few people being difficult.

The Vintage Teen Books group will eventually reach a point where it also will be overall okay, but the process will likely take another year or so.

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