A critical look at ‘Pretend to be…’ Facebook groups

May 25, 2020, 9:01 p.m.

The Facebook group trend of “A group where we all pretend to be…” started a while ago, but along with the increasing stay-at-home population who dwell on the internet, more of these groups started popping up and gaining popularity. Thus, I decided to join some of them to examine the types of communities they offer, which seem to attract a large following. Many of the groups I chose to join attempt to use humor or a niche interest to unite people and provide an escape from reality. 

A group where we speak gibberish and pretend to understand each other.” 

With 128,000 members, the group offers humor that comes in the form of ridiculous word choices, sentence structures and spellings. This group is the type of funny that takes minimal to no understanding for one to completely comprehend. Here is an example of the type of content in the group: If Bob takes a train north while eating a bowl of spaghetti at 53 km/hr while walking his dog that barks 3.6 times a minute, how fast does Jenny’s watermelon weigh? The play on words in an absurd method creates an element of surprise for members. I genuinely find this group fun for its nonsensical humor with nonexistent punch lines. Although there are still some who abuse their gibberish to make inappropriate jokes, I find this is still better than most social media pages with the goal of gaining a following with humor. 

A group where we all pretend to live in Hogwarts, school of magic.” 

This is a smaller group with only 800 people. It is one of those groups with a niche interest in a topic where light-hearted roleplay dominates interactions. Most of its content revolves around games, spells, sorting hat discussions and everyday objects that remind participants of the Harry Potter series. I thought it was a cute group whose discussion activity probably consisted mainly of middle and high schoolers who are passionate about the series. 

Another similar type of niche-interest group is “a group where we all pretend to be pirates,” which I suspect may have been created for the love of pirates and the desire to use pirate speech. Although I do not prefer the violence of speech associated with media-inspired pirate talk in the group, I can understand why people are drawn to this niche community. 

A group where we all pretend to be ants in an ant colony.” 

The description pretty much sums up what we do in the group: “In this group we are ants. We worship The Queen and do ant stuff. Welcome to the colony.” In a way, even though we are known to one another as Ant [insert name], this type of roleplay is relatable on a unique level. The 1.8 million members bond over food in odd locations and images, memes and jokes of ants, responding with comments like “Nom” or “Lift [food featured in the image] to The Queen.” NBC News deemed this group therapeutic, a space away from the pandemic and “human issues.” The admins and moderators specifically select for posts that are ant-specific and encourage the bonding of the ant colony. 

There are many other similar groups with such adorable content including “A group where we all pretend to be frogs in the same pond.” Many of these lovelier groups are centered around pretending to be a certain type of insect or animal. These groups’ feeds are also filled with relatable animals and insect memes. The interactions of members in these groups are similar to that of children’s pretend games. 

You might wonder what groups like “A group where everyone gets approved in under 10 seconds” post about. The admin actually approved my join group request within 10 seconds (and if you’re wondering, the admin of “a group where everyone gets approved in under 5 seconds” also approved my request in under five seconds). The quality of the content, however, is much harder for admins and moderators to guarantee. With 28,000 members, the group listed daily themes for posts as shown below:

“Monday: Let the group ask you anything! 

Tuesday: Have a small decision you need to make? Let the group decide for you

Wednesday: The ONE day for unwholesome shenanigans such as “roast me,” “shame my” and unpopular opinions. Must be 18+ for roasts!

Thursday: Post selfies, but keep it PG! Must be 18+ to participate!

Friday: Tell us how you feel! Rant your heart out

Saturday: Promote yourself or your friends’ business!”

These non-niche focused groups outline general guidelines for content, but the quality of the posts oscillate between encouraging and condescending. After reading many of the “Roast me” comments, I came to the conclusion that the idea may sound fun in some aspects, but many of these posts end up in arguments with self-esteem and body confidence at stake, creating a harsh virtual space. 

During my search for groups, I noticed that while many of them focused on wholesome and community-bonding subjects such as pretending to be butterflies or bees, a large portion of these “A group where we all pretend to be…” actually center around problematic topics which may actually create toxic cyber environments. These included ones such as  “A group where we all pretend to be prisoners and guards” which contained interactions which resembled that of the Stanford Prison Experiment or  “A group where we all pretend to be middle aged dads” which consisted primarily of wholesome dad jokes but still included insensitive conversations which I personally didn’t want to be associated with. 

Another similarity I noticed was that most of these groups ban the use of the “report” function because an overwhelming number of reports in a group may lead to the deletion of the group by Facebook. Thus, admins require members to tag admins/moderators or message them instead to unofficially report offensive posts and comments. 

My doubts about the friendliness of such groups were confirmed when I joined “A group where we all pretend that we live in the same house” and found offensive speech disguised as housemate/sibling rivalry mixed in with a handful of lovely housemate appreciation posts. It seems like these groups have too broad of an outline of what is acceptable, thus the loophole is so large that offensive content pervades much of its feed. 

All in all, this piece is more of a curious, nonsensical examination into the Facebook world of “A group where we all pretend to be…” While many of these groups may provide valuable content for well-being boosts during this time, I would advise people to be careful when joining and participating in these groups and to look out for red flags to prevent negative groupthink. I would recommend trying out groups such as “A group where we all pretend to be ants in an ant colony” for a lively yet ridiculous community of wholesome ants if you’re thinking of joining these communities. 

Contact Crystal Chen at chen1130 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Crystal Chen ’22 is an Economics major and Data Science minor from Taiwan. Contact her at chen1130 ‘at’ stanford.edu!

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