Private Facebook groups are becoming a problem. Scratch that – they’ve been a problem for a minute now, but the toxicity is reaching fever pitch. Despite Facebook’s attempts to do nothing, they’re all out of ideas as to how to curtail the issue of toxic online culture being fostered in, curated by and rewarded from these such groups.
Many didn’t start that way. Many began with noble intentions of becoming an effective discussion hub before ending up as a dumping ground for sexist, racist and problematic behaviour.
The result is highly damaging for our mental health. Out of sight, out of mind doesn’t exactly work when we’re at the behest of dead-eyed algorithms, which almost seem to get a kick out of propagating us content which is holistically miserable. And in a way they do – they seek engagement; not good engagement, not positive engagement – engagement, and as sensational as possible.
“Researchers also say social media makes it easy for people to find these posts because their sensational content makes them more likely to be shared by users or recommended by the company’s algorithms,” The Wall Street Journal commented in their report following a mindblowing 600% increase in members of a Qanon group within a matter of months, on account of Facebook’s automated suggestion taking hold.
It doesn’t necessarily matter what the group may be about. We’ve all seen our local area groups collapse into chaos from time to time over recommendations for where to go to dinner that night. Hell, even Simpsons meme groups, now experiencing a boom on account of a) the entire catalogue now available via VOD and b) a year-long global pandemic that we could escape with said entire catalogue, bringing the series well and truly into meme culture and spawning a whole new appreciation for the show.
But from the primordial ooze of this new digital trend sprung an outlier, a page that by name and nature is set to put our mind at ease via the new art form of Simpsons memes. And did I, a learned journalist, ever imagine myself using up precious bandwidth to do a write-up on a Facebook group? Hell no. But I also never imagined such a group to have such a profound impact on my and all 28,000 other members’ daily psyche. As such, it’s my civil duty to bring such a thing to your attention.
Meet Rancho Relaxo, a perfectly cromulent name taken from Season 3 Episode 15: ‘Homer Alone’, that’s turned into an online philosophy of curating wholesome engagement using wholesome Simpsons memes, and breath a big ol’ sigh of relief. We spoke with Ruby M, one of 7 adored admins on the page, to work out how they did it.
What was the situation that led to the creation of Rancho Relaxo?
Rancho Relaxo was created after our original group Obscure Simpsons Characters was started. After Obscure Simpsons Characters’ member count took off, people were starting to post content that was outside the guidelines, so we created Rancho Relaxo for people to post OC, memes and discussions.
Given the nature of the group, I’d love to know if you noticed if the growth was faster than other experiences you’d had with Facebook groups?
Rancho Relaxo growth has been slow and steady, compared to Obscure Simpsons Characters. At approximately 8 months old, we’re currently sitting at almost 28,000 members. We attract between 50-100 members on a regular day. Although in the last couple of weeks we have been exceeding the usual amount of requests, which is fantastic. Comparing this to the other major Simpsons Facebook group I created (Obscure Simpsons Characters), it was slower to take off but does have more engagement. Obscure Simpsons Charactersgets between 100-300 member requests a day.
What goes into moderating the content to ensure that it stays positive? Is there a psychology behind curating positive content in a Facebook group?
Like most Facebook groups, we have a set of rules and guidelines for members to read before they join so that they understand the vibe and culture of the group. We really wanted to foster a space that people felt comfortable to post their content and thoughts in without being harassed and bullied in the comments, which tends to be a huge problem in other Facebook Simpsons groups. To add to that, the type of content we want to see in Rancho Relaxo is things that are wholesome. We don’t tolerate offensive/overly sexual/racist/sexist etcetera content. Rancho Relaxo, as the name suggests, is meant to be a relaxing online refuge from the relentless ‘edgelord’ culture that is rife within Facebook communities.
Are there any other positivity-focused Facebook groups that you look to for inspiration in how to run Rancho Relaxo?
Obscure Simpsons Characters, as the original group started, has the same culture of wholesome vibes and relaxed community which was passed to Rancho Relaxo. The reason we have the two groups is because we noticed a lack of comfortable and civil spaces within Facebook Simpsons communities, and we wanted to MAKE that space for people. And from this, we’ve found that other new Simpsons-based Facebook groups follow that same vibe, which is a great step forward.
We see the comments and the posts from others in the group, but what sort of interactions have you had with followers behind the scenes?
For the most part, we have really positive and heartfelt interactions with our members through admin inboxes. When we see a post about someone needing to vent that they are struggling, we always encourage them to contact an admin if they need someone to talk to in confidence. We often get messages and posts from members expressing how much they appreciate having our group to keep their spirits up or allowing them a space to post and talk about The Simpsons without fear of being attacked or bullied. But again, there are occasions where we receive cruel and abusive messages from people we have had to mute or ban due to offensive conduct.
All images sourced from Rancho Relaxo/Fox.