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Facebook’s dark matter: “secret” groups (toph.me)
49 points by hartleybrody on Dec 28, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 49 comments

Could I ask a simple question, not because I want to mock people or anything, but because I've been experiencing a similar phenomenon lately.

Why does facebook make you hate people you know?

I do generally find that most people I'm not actively great friends with at the moment tend to annoy the shit out of me with either bragging, illogical nonsense about things like politics, or just passive-aggressive teenager posts. I see friends post good content sometime, but honestly it seems more and more rare. I'm not sure if people are worse at posting or if its that these type of posts have worn on me and I've gotten more and more annoyed by them over time. What has it been like for everyone else?

You know that Adams quote about the universe being bigger than you can impossibly imagine? Like, really, really big?

Well, people are like that. Our brains kinda blur the world together and, without realizing it, our brains map other people onto our own experiences so we think people are kinda like us. Except they really aren't. Really, really, really aren't. In every day interactions, we gloss over, ignore, and excuse little things that don't gel with us (without even knowing we do it). But being presented with their innermost inconsistent idiocracy in writing, in our face, and in our pockets -- it's too much. We start to realize they aren't us. They are them. Them ain't us. And we can't stand it.

It's the same reason sharing an office with someone possessing your exact anti-personality will enrage you daily. It's the same reason visiting a highly population dense foreign land where people live by their own customs will begin grating on you quickly. "Stop exploding fireworks on my front door you irredeemable kids! I don't care if it is your yearly festival of annoying neighbors into threatening you with axes!"

Two solutions: get much better (more complete, more self-actualized, more authentic) friends or tune them out. They're the same they've always been, but being exposed to every one of their inner most thoughts will drive you batshit insane.


>Two solutions: get much better (more complete, more self-actualized, more authentic)

Reading your whole post, I think you mean 'more exactly like your favorite part of yourself', but otherwise, spot on. On FB you have to listen to everything everyone says to everyone, not just what they would choose to say to you to accommodate your sensibilities.

> On FB you have to listen to everything everyone says to everyone, not just what they would choose to say to you to accommodate your sensibilities.

What I find really interesting is that this communication model is a totally novel one. Clay Shirky observed[1] that before the internet, all communication mediated by technology was either one-to-one (telephone, telegraph) or one-to-many (newspaper publishing). Only now with Facebook can we type up casual remarks that are instantly seen by potentially 100 or more of our real-world acquaintances. I can't think of any form of offline conversation that's analogous.

This is exciting to me because it suggests that how Facebook works is not the final form of online communication. There's still plenty of room to discover new forms of interaction that more closely model what humans find comfortable. Maybe the secret groups discussed in the OP (which I'd never heard of until now) are an example of that.

[1] http://www.shirky.com/writings/group_enemy.html

Let's say the spectrum is something like:

  [90s Valley Girl] ... [Richard Dawkins]
(people are one-dimensional in this example)

I'm sure people cluster around ranges on the line. The stereotypical self-obsesed pinhead probably wants more people to reinforce his or her introspection and less talk about the world. They want celebrities, gossip, sales at stores, and shoes, shoes, shoes. The other end of the line probably doesn't want those things.

"we think people are kinda like us. Except they really aren't. Really, really, really aren't."

I think the opposite is more likely to be problematic. People who aren't like myself are more interesting.

Brilliant response, ty.

It's an interesting psychological phenomenon.

I think on some level the narcissism that Facebook encourages (look at me, I was here! My new shoes! A car we rented in Vegas! Look how drunk we are! On a plane to Hawaii!) especially for those that are not our close friends (and there's various debate about what our cortex is designed to handle in terms of social group siZe, and we all exceed it on Facebook) triggers jealousy, or perhaps just disgust at what we consider an over share.

However for people closer in our social scene, we don't experience the same level of turn-off, especially if we were involved in some of their activities etx.

That being said in my feed I rarely get people posting links or political issues, it is mostly banter between friends and photos which reflects my social circles really.

I don't know if I like the twitter-ification that is being suggested as something 'better', but personally I dislike the 140chr soundbite because I think it kind of encourages dumbing down of issues and in many ways for social activities is even more narcissistic. But this is just my take on it, clearly millions of people think differently.

Which brings up another point- if so many of us dislike these services, why do we continue to use them? I don't even know where to start on that one.

The culture of Twitter is different, though. It isn't just Facebook with every update cut off at 140 characters. Many have noted that on Twitter there's a widely held expectation that you'll at least try to be witty. (You can't spell "Twitter" without "wit".) I'm no sociologist, but if I had to guess, there are probably two core reasons for the different culture:

1. Pseudonyms (or first-names only) are allowed and widely used. So there's less expectation that your Twitter social life has to match your offline social life.

2. The asymmetric follow model. You can follow someone without them following you. You can unfollow someone and then change your mind and follow again without them even noticing.

Combined, the dynamic of Twitter is that you follow based on interest, whereas on Facebook you friend based on acquaintanceship. That produces a pressure to be interesting.

I'm not a particularly heavy user of either Twitter or Facebook, so please weigh in if anyone thinks I got this wrong. But this is why they feel different to me.

I have never before heard that twitter posts are supposed to be witty. In any case, most of my friends' facebook posts would qualify, too. (you can also unfollow without unfriending people on facebook.)

In my case the personal answer is that there is simply nothing productive, at all, about using Facebook. It is indeed a total waste of time - for everyone. I've yet to see anyone actually get any work done while facebook.com is up on the screen. Perhaps some small businesses use it to communicate with their customers - I don't know, because I personally cannot ever associate Facebook with "service I want to use". Facebook is a service I _have_ to use, only because my friends and associates don't know how to use email properly. Sad but true fact: everything I get from Facebook, I also get from my Email system - its just that, well, some people just cannot learn to use Email effectively, but certainly logging onto Facebook and dynamically updating the web page in front of them, for some reason, is 'easier'.

Personally I think Facebook - and similar services - are a manifestation of Mob Think, and little else. Its an 'associative' function, building associations. Unfortunately, association is not the only form of reason - differentiation, identification too - and where these "beams get crossed" is where Facebook tries to sit.

If Facebook died, all I would have to do is send an email to the important folks in my life informing them "Please use email. This is the cc:, this is what its for. This is the bcc:, this is what its for. Here is how to add an X-header in case there is something special we need. Also, GPG." Probably it would cost me a week of question-answering, but I'd sure love to be rid of Facebook forever, personally.

People are noisy, especially when they 'think' that folks are listening. Facebook is a proxy for friends who don't normally pay as much attention as we'd all like, and the sad fact of the matter is that most of us don't ever get as much attention as we need from our social sphere ..

Facebook had to overcome a pretty steep disadvantage to beet e-mail. The main difference I see is that in e-mail, everything you see (in theory) needs your attention, whereas in facebook, nothing you see needs you attention, but everything is avalable when you want to give your attention. Unlike e-mail, people can join the conversation without an explicit invitation.

Are you sure you haven't got that around the wrong way? If I check Facebook right now, I will have missed everything that happened in between now and the last time .. unless I scroll and scroll and scroll.

But if I check email right now, I can come back and see the same emails that I haven't read yet, a week later, sitting in the same approximate location.

Also, umm .. really, this: "Unlike e-mail, people can join the conversation without an explicit invitation."

.. just doesn't seem quite right. Ever been on a proper listserv?

Actually, your observation - and don't take it wrong, but I think you got it .. not .. quite .. right - is fascinating. You actually have it completely inverted, in my opinion - is this because you learned to use Facebook before you learned to (properly) use email? Not trying to be offensive, but this inversion seems pretty obtuse ..

Why does facebook make you hate people you know?

No, but it makes me despise people I used to know from my youth/school, because apart from one person who became a reporter in Africa with a strong eye for justice, ALL OF US have become such mediocre, boring squares. I now understand where the spineless adults I used to wonder about come from, and that is depressing. They're us! D:

Because Fb encourages behavior that gets "likes" and you dont have a "dislike" button to compensate. Let me explain: there is a class of behaviors that get quite a lot of "likes" but would also get even more "dislikes" if there was a "dislike" button. But these behaviors don't get negative feedback on Fb, but instead they get encouraged, even if less than others (and "less positive feedback" is not the same as "negative feedback"!). This brings the worst out of some people and makes them act stupid or childish on Fb even if they are not like this in real life! (I actually observed this change to worse in myself when I was an active Fb user, but only in retrospective, after giving up Fb for a time) Having a "dislike" button (but having it anonymously to prevent retaliation) would really change the dynamics, but it would also probably "prune" the network a bit, resulting in a less connected network and less engagement from each user, and I guess the Fb's "masterminds" thought of this and will not add such a feature because a "pruned" network is bad for their "business".

Fb the way it is now distorts and influences interpersonal relationships in a bad way, and this is why I use it with moderation (or mostly for business or advertising-like activities), reserving meaningful social interaction for other channels.

If you read through Facebook's guidelines for developers, there is a subtle but consistent undertone: don't do anything that makes people feel uncomfortable. Basically, they want Facebook to be a completely positive experience which strokes your ego to boost. No dislikes, no exposure to people you don't like. It's designed to be the ideal filter bubble.

Great point and I think this is my biggest problem with Facebook actually. Now that most of my peers are doing fairly well, no one seems interested in anything but complete, feel good narcissism.

Important issues in the world? I don't want to think about that because it will make me sad.

Oh look my friend is drinking on the beach? LIKE.

The best part is how predictable it is. I definitely refrain from posting "important" things if I know people would react poorly because they aren't just straight feel good garbage, whereas today I'm in Hawaii and posted a pic of the beach and it got a ton of likes. It makes me feel like people become accepting (read: ignorant) of sad stuff in the interest of liking every pretty, fun, positive thing they see.

So now Facebook isn't passe because of secret groups, which aren't visible outside the group of people who are communicating privately? That was the same argument which pro-Facebook partisans pooh-poohed when it was made about Google+, interestingly enough.

The only difference was that G+ started with private circles, and later added circles which could be shared and public communities, whereas Facebook started with the "let it all hang out" model and then grafted privacy on later. The problem with this, though, as Randi Zuckerberg discovered to her discomfort, is that like security, grafting privacy onto a product design afterwards is fraught with peril and often doesn't work well (if at all).

> Facebook started with the "let it all hang out" model and then grafted privacy on later

That's not actually correct history. Facebook started with most data visible only to your friends, and gradually increased the visibility (given default settings) over time. You can track the changes here:


Also, when Facebook launched it was exclusive to Harvard, and then to Ivy League colleges, and then to all colleges, and even for a while after they opened it up it was still mostly young people. Your friends list was a closer match to your peer group. So it's possible that the audience people used to get with a friends-only post a few years ago isn't all that different from the audience you get with a secret group today. I remember when I was first finding out about Facebook around early 2009, it had the distinct feel of a private social club.

Everyone, stop harping on Randi's picture as some horrible Facebook bug. One of her sister's friends leaked a photo, which could happen just as easy in any online medium, like email or smugmug.

I use FB only for groups.

I think the reason people are not moving off of FB to G+ is because of the groups. These secret/closed groups are heavily organized and ingrained and it is practically impossible for people to make a move to anywhere else. These FB groups are like Yahoogroups (the old fashioned email listserv) which are still going strong as far as I know.

Now wait a second.

I am in a highly organized secret Facebook group mah-self. The thing is that this highly organized quality means that they could jump anywhere if they really wanted to. Perhaps you "semi-organized".

Basically, I think lock-in to any social networking pretty much has to come through a group disorganization, through the fact that a given setup works for some members of the group but these members are not so committed that they'd actually jump from one group to another.

But there are other factors, I think G+ only has traction with early adopters. By starting at Harvard, Facebook itself spread from high-social-prestige people to the rest of us. G+, for whatever reason, may be spreading the same way but that kind of effect only works with the tenuous connections you want to have with people who aren't wholly committed. The cohesive connection you with people in a set group don't require any given medium to happen.

Anyway, personally I'm not going to G+ due it's even-more-draconian-than-Facebook anonymity policy (Facebook's policy is pretty much that they only say they care).

Actually, G+ does support pseudonyms, although there are some subtleties with how they work and the approval process involved with them. See this very long thread for the details, and some really interesting discussion about names, pseudonyms, "core identities", "peripheral identies"/hats, "firewalled identies", and more:


I don't think your statement accurately describes the text in your link.

The only thing I see here is the ability to add a nicknames - your "alternate names" - to your "real" name. That is not at all the same thing.

Edit: Comment on the page - "I'm sorry, but the only difference I see here is that you're now listing the nickname field on the hovercard and profile. I see no substantive policy change. Fame was already an obvious and hypocritical exception to the policy; now you're just open about it." That's what I read.

G+ totally allows pseudo names.

But that's not really a game changer. Whether you are at FB or G+, if you are using pseudo name to protect your identity, than you are rendering yourself useless because you can't be hiding and expect to be networking authentically with the people you know for real. What would make sense for FB/G+ to provide is the ability to have each person choose his/her self-identity based on different situations, i.e, provide complete autonomy to the people on how they wish to portray themselves to the different sets of people. I can be a real name in front of my family and co-workers, but at the same time, projecting and sharing different sets of updates based on who am I sharing with. At the same time, I can be a pseudo name in front of the strangers and/or people I may only know online.

Are you trying to make these identities to be firewalled from each other? i.e., do you not want your family to know that you go by "Master Dan" in certain BDSM communities? Or for someone who is transgener, but isn't yet ready to let a set of friends/family/coworkers know yet by the choice of a differently-gendered name?

It turns out this is extraordinarily difficult, and if users think they can maintain this separation using a single account, and then they get burned, they are very likely to blame the social network involved. Which is a pretty good reason why the architects at FB or G+ would probably think very, very carefully before implementing such a feature.

But isn't this how people live their life in the offline world?

G+ has the same policy as Facebook now: you must use a name that looks reasonably appealing for a marketing campaign, and nothing obviously not anyone's real name, nor excessively foreign looking.

Read through to the rest of the comments..... there is also the ability to use pseudonyms.

An organized group is surprisingly mobile (and can be fairly robust over time as well).

I've known a few groups which have survived / persisted across multiple platforms over the years. In one case, migrating first from one hosted forum to another, then self-hosting, then that imploded, a "temporary" forum was constructed (and persisted for years), and finally the original self-hosting platform was resurrected.

Bits of the group survived all of that.

What didn't survive were several members (death trumps all social stickyness), and some political and group-dynamics interactions, including a few fairly spectacular flame-outs. But a core element has survived.

If a group were, as a whole, to decide that FB was no longer where its interests were best served, then a migration elsewhere would be trivial to arrange. Despite my own interest in archives, it's not the depth of social media history that matters so much to most users as the breadth of now. Facebook is where "now" is for most people, though this could change (and has for all prior social network giants of the past: Geocities, Usenet, Orcutt, Xanga, The WELL, ...).

I discovered groups quite recently, and colour me surprised at the kind of stuff that goes in on some of them.

I joined this local car club group, and there's literally hundreds of people every day posting up pictures of their cars asking for... swaps. SWAPS?! This happens in the real world?!

On more investigation there's local groups like "Under $50"... to "Under $1000" - and my gods, they're soooo suspect.

I can understand why they're a big part of people's lives, because they've got a wealth of content!

I'm sorry, I don't really understand what you said, but you piqued my interest. What do you mean by "suspect"? What are swaps? What is under $50? What kind of content do they have?

I think the implication was that a large degree of the products available were stolen and Facebook was being used as a method of finding buyers without leaving a paper trail.

Odd one this for me.

I recently closed my FB account, and it was exactly because of: “Twitter makes me love people I've never met; Facebook makes me hate people I know.”

Not the Twitter bit as I don't use it, but the FB part was exactly what happened to me. I just ended up loathing almost every one I "knew". So, coupled with the constant rumblings about FB's privacy attitudes and all that, I closed my FB account. However, the reason I ended up loathing all my "friends" was because of the secret groups. It was in the groups where I began to really not like them. But it is true that the vast majority of my FB time was spent in those groups.

So, I go with the initial point, but also agree with the parts that are supposed to disprove it.

People seriously didn't know about this? "Secret" Groups are probably the only reason that I and any of the friends I care about are still using Facebook.

I would guess that the extroverted people who make up the blogosphere/tech journalism don't think about it because they post/tweet everything publicly by default.

It's a bit like lucid dreaming. I don't know how often I've heard "what, other people can't control their dreams? Really?" :)

Can some people talk about example secret groups? I quit using facebook/never had the friends to discover these.

I am in a Digital Media graduate program at the University of Washington (MCDM, if you really want to know).

The classes are small (6-15 students) and we all get along really well.

On the first day of each class we create a secret group for the quarter so that we can discuss readings, assignments, and our opinion of the lecturer.

We all keep our laptops open during class and the group serves as a running commentary on the goings-on.

The only secret group that I am in is for an organization which is, in turn, a secret.

I can't imagine why you'd want a truly secret group otherwise. Not just closed, where non-members can't see the content, but secret, where non-members don't know the group exists.

Tautology? Of course no one would want a non-secret secret group.

I'm in a secrete motorbike group which organises rides and provides warnings for other riders about police blitz or speed cameras.

There are private groups for all the Microsoft interns, with a new group created each year. Great for planning housing and such before starting work and gaining access to Microsoft internal mailing lists and for keeping in touch after the internship ends.

// Edit: I'm also in a private group for computer-related majors at our school, kept private so we can talk about stuff we don't necessarily want getting back to administration. (Weak security, but better than public posts.)

Baby photos. It's a fair assumption that 90% of my friends are not interested in seeing one every single day. For those 10% that do (and for grandparents on either end) we've set up a secret group where it's anywhere from 1 to a few dozen photos daily.

It's not really secret in the sense that we try to keep extremely high levels of privacy on it, anybody can ask to join.

I am in several regular groups and one secret group. The regular groups I am in - one is a local group, one is a memorial group for someone who died young, one was started by a friend for his hobby.

The secret group has a lock on its tab and says "Secret Group - Only members see the group, who's in it, and what members post". No one who I am friends with knows I'm in the group aside from people in the group. Not sure what more to say - it has a wall which is somewhat active, although content was better and more diverse when the group started, now it is mostly 1-2 boring friend-of-friend chatterboxes. It also had a chat room, although Facebook killed group chat rooms a few months ago.

Imagine if you are using your FB and you have other people around you peeking at your PC screen. Now this secret FB group is not really secret, is it?

There is actually no technical way possible for having a truly secret group.

This is like saying you can't have a secure bank account online because people can just look over at your screen while you do it.

Just don't go on when people are around.

You are right. What I am saying is that secrecy of an online group is totally dependent on human choice and decisions. When Facebook (or anyone else) claim that they have secret group ... they are not technically secret because their secrecy is dependent upon non-technical aspect, i.e, humans.

BTW, the analogy of bank website isn't equally applicable because people don't hang out at their bank websites most of the time.

This is very true, as I've observed with a small community of programmers I founded.

I created a FB page called "I Live Prograaming" and played with FB ads, which gave the page about 1000 likes in a short doace if time, a few years ago and the old format for pages worked quite well for a community, which timeline destroyed. We (three others were helping me at this point) discovered that groups are actually exactly what we needed.

We started creating groups and each turned into fairly active communities, seeded from our growing page. We found the demography of our groups matched that of our page, which seems obvious but found it interesting.

We have many that are secret with hundreds of members - past a certain member count you are unable to change this setting with your member's privacy as the reason against , which makes a lot of sense.

Our format is fairly simple: I Love X, where X is anything technical, which began with I Love Programming.

Some groups hold over 200 members each and there are groups for most common programming languages and platforms (I Love C is fairly popular).

I'm not trying to plug though, I've refrained from linking, but more to show a full picture of what the article refers to.

Facebook, for me, had been a great way to build a community based around my passions.

I love "secret" groups. It's great for my close group of friends to share pictures that we would otherwise not put on the Internet (and no I don't need a lecture, I'm aware that's "risky". If my employer wants to fire me if a picture leaks out of there, their priorities aren't set correctly)

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