Wednesday, September 05, 2007

This Facebook thing part 2

In this post, I would like to explore the group dynamics I have observed as a member of several FB groups. These groups are formed by anyone and everyone within the FB community. Membership can be open, restricted to invitees, or managed by the originators of the group.

Professional SIGs
The discussions on the groups related to professional development and interests have remained largely just that: professional in focus. Nevertheless, the contributions represent the views of the individuals who put them forward and there is no observance of corporate, national or sector-specific boundaries. To date, I have not received any personal messages from anyone off the back of any of these groups.

My church
The group for my church was (perhaps predictably) created by some of the younger members. In a very short space of time there were about 30 members. Most of those were under 25, but there were a handful of greyer/balder heads, including the parents of some of those under 25s. In quick succession, two contradictory things happened: one young member urged for discussions that focused on matters that would encourage participation from and increased membership among “the over 20s”, while another of them asked her parents to leave the group because they shouldn’t be trying to “muscle in” on something that was intended for younger people. They did. So much for FB being a great leveller!

The great FB race
The Great Facebook Race – Africans, which I joined out of a sense of loyalty, thinking that the largely unconnected continent could do with a boost from her expats, has been a real eye-opener. The interracial vitriole on the discussion boards has driven away no fewer than 30 members in the last week. My own membership is unlikely to last much longer. Like many other white members of the group, I have been advised in no uncertain terms that I am not African – that Africans are black, and that white members should leave and join the European group where they belong. Oh dear – I guess that leaves only the descendants of Native American tribes for the American team ;-)

Age groups
Just for fun, I also recently joined a group that glories in the name Unlike 99.99% of the Facebook population, I was born in the 60s. Unlike other members of this group, it had not been my perception that FB (unlike MySpace) was a place for youngsters - perhaps because most of my first FB friends were people I had encountered in the edublogosphere. Nevertheless it has been fun to take the odd amble down memory lane.

The impression of FB as a space for younger people is certainly given in the membership of my high school’s past pupils’ group, however, where I am old enough to be the mother of most of the other members! So far, I have managed to persuade the two of my erstwhile classmates with whom I am in regular contact to join, but the rest are difficult to track down, due largely to the fact that I don’t know their married surnames (I was at a single sex school). However, our school is the sister school to one of those boys’ schools with strong traditions. Men from around the world still send their sons back to Dale College, regardless of where they are based, and their daughters, by extension, wind up at KHS (no website). It has been interesting, if slightly surreal, to confirm with many bearers of familiar surnames that I was indeed at school with their fathers.

I guess it’s fair (and rather obvious) to say that the group dynamics within FB are as varied as those in other situation. However, people can often be braver remotely than they might be in person, saying things – both harsh and kind – to each other through messages that they wouldn’t dream of saying f2f. I’m still trying to decide whether this is a plus or a minus. I guess my view fluctuates on whether I have been at the receiving end of something unexpectedly kind or undeservedly cruel.

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