COVID-19 has impacted just about every part of our lives: where we go, who we see, what we do both in real life and online. You can’t watch the news or your newsfeed without an update on the pandemic and its subsequent quarantines. Just as your group chats have shifted to talking about where to find soap and shelf-stable pasta, the novel coronavirus is changing the landscape of Facebook groups. Come for the dank memes, stay for the community-lead donation drives.
Some have called Facebook groups the last good place on the internet. Others have avoided every notification for groups dedicated to everything from high school reunions to pyramid scheme-adjacent leggings. Facebook has recognized the shift toward Groups in recent years, putting dollars toward ads specifically about Facebook Groups. You’ve likely seen the Facebook Kazoo Group commercial featuring the International Kazoo Players Association and Big Freedia, and I cannot believe that is even a sentence I can say.
While COVID-19 may be leading to Facebook’s potential decrease in ad flow, it seems to be impacting Facebook Groups in a more positive way. Apparently, when we can’t gather IRL, we flock to familiar corners of the internet and Facebook Groups are almost exclusively familiar and specific corners.
As a spokesperson for Facebook confirmed to Bustle over email, the company has seen many users turn to Facebook Groups to stay connected while apart. There is a Quarantine Karaoke Facebook group that has nearly 450,000 members, more than the estimated population of Oakland, California. Singing videos and posts about your favorite song are recommended but not mandatory. The only requirements are “Positive vibes” and “FUN.” Project Quarantine 2020, a name that implies both past and future years with quarantine projects, has over 33,000 members sharing daily crafts and creative activities for families. For context, that would be like if every person in Gibraltar attended regular meetings about things like faux stained glass windows.
Staying “positive and productive” seems to be a trend among coronavirus-related Facebook groups. There’s Pandemic Pantry, a group dedicated to recipe recommendations, asking cooking questions, and sharing tips for those who may find themselves cooking way more for perhaps the first time. Over a 72-hour span in mid-March, more than 35 Facebook groups dedicated to “caremongering” in Canada popped up, according to BBC. As Valentina Harper, a co-creator of one of the original “caremongering” Facebook groups, told BBC, the group name is a play on “scaremongering,” flipping the fear-lead problem on its head in order to help at-risk populations amid the coronavirus outbreak. Care-based Facebook groups are not an anomaly or limited to overly-kind Canadians.
There’s Quarantine Socks 4 Sanity, which was started by a Facebook user in Maine as a momentary distraction with a simple task: sharing regular pictures of “fun and funky socks” you’re wearing while working an essential job or sheltering-in-place. The group now has over 2,200 members. Per a post from the group admins, since growing to 1,500 members, the group has organized local sock drives to donate an often-forgotten but much-needed item to homeless shelters and other organizations supporting at-risk populations.
Quarantined Beer Chugs has nearly 300,000 members and, unlike other coronavirus-inspired Facebook groups, is private. Meaning, you need to request membership and be approved to be a part of the virtual party that supports the Kansas City-based charity Feed Northland Kids and the United States Bartenders Guild. If you’ve been on Facebook at all in the last few weeks, you’ve likely seen a few of your friends creating homemade masks to combat the personal protective equipment (PPE) shortage. (Cloth masks are not as effective as surgical-grade masks though they are better than no mask and a good alternative for those who are not part of high-risk populations.)
Is that kind of positivity too much pressure right now? You may be entitled to membership to Zoom Memes for Self Quaranteens. The public Facebook group has over half a million members who share everything from videos from online classes, open calls for good dog pics, and posts claiming to have “finished reading all of Facebook.”
Unfortunately, but predictably, fearmongering Facebook groups have also become common. In the UK, there’s been an uptick in Facebook groups spreading misinformation about COVID-19. In the U.S., NBC News reported about some Facebook Groups making false claims about coronavirus as a political plot by Democrats, COVID-19 as a bioweapon created by the Chinese government, and Vitamin C masks you can buy to protect you from coronavirus. (There is currently no vaccine or cure-all for coronavirus.) U.K non-profit organization the Center for Countering Digital Hate is monitoring these groups and working to stop and prevent false information about the novel coronavirus online. As a representative for Facebook told Bustle, the company currently works to limit the spread of false information among Facebook Groups and the platform as a whole.
Facebook will reduce the distribution of groups repeatedly sharing false information, the rep states. Meaning these groups may be removed from the recommendations the platform shows when users are searching. While there have been some reports of Facebook removing Groups based on hate speech, the rep who spoke to Bustle did not specify that Facebook is removing or deleting groups spreading misinformation altogether.
When it comes to COVID-19 misinformation on Facebook, the platform is working to guide users to expert, fact-checking information from organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. When you search for coronavirus-related content, including in Facebook Groups, you should see an educational pop-up near the search bar that directs you to Facebook’s up-to-date official page on coronavirus, which states “Get updates about coronavirus to keep yourself and the people around you safe.” In addition to first showing credible and verified results, Facebook has started removing coronavirus-related groups and Pages from the recommendations you see, a Facebook representative confirms. To be abundantly clear: While the goal is prevention and precaution over panic, yes, COVID-19 is real and yes, it should be taken seriously.
Despite young people using Facebook less and less in recent years, they still seem to be flocking to strange and specific corners of the internet. And Facebook Groups are nothing if not strange and specific. Perhaps strange and specific distraction is just what we need right now.