In the broken halls of Facebook, a handful of groups are bringing back aspects of yesteryear that the digital world has sadly surpassed, latching on to nostalgia and asking its members to just pretend – for once – that everything online isn’t serious and sad.
It’s a flurry of groups based around role playing, digital LARPing, and recreating time periods from only a few years ago, and they’re building up significant communities.
There’s ‘We Pretend It’s 2007-2012 Internet‘, there’s ‘A Group Where We All Pretend To Be Boomers‘, and there’s even ‘A Group Where We All Pretend To Be Farmers And Cows‘ that is mostly full of people commenting “moooooooooo” in an ongoing spiral of cow-cosplay. It’s Pretend Facebook, for people long tired of Real Facebook.
“I think it’s a wonderful outlet,” said Robert Snider, one of multiple admin for ‘A Group Where We all Pretend To Be Boomers.‘
The group recently went viral on Twitter after someone tweeted screenshots of posts made by members. “Joining this group on Facebook was the best decision of my life so far,” they wrote.
joining this group on facebook was the best decision of my life so far pic.twitter.com/TCl0tAyGE7
— ellie (@ebolaslut) June 22, 2019
Snider tells me that he thinks people are drawn to the closed community because of social media’s development into a political battleground. “This gives people a breath of fresh air and helps them expel the stress of some of that emotional labour,” he says.
In the group Snider helps manage people post Facebook-prompted text images lamenting the death of their “son” in brutal honestly (“My son is dead“), they share gifs of the American flag in faux patriotism, the words “Flood Facebook with our flag!” emboldened along the top. Often, it’s just someone replicating the ham-fisted way the older generation can often find itself using Facebook’s basic features, asking amongst an army of commas what the acronym “wyd” means (“Is this some gang language?“).
“When everyone around you is already in the pool, it’s a lot harder to feel uneasy about dipping your toes in and testing out the waters,” says Elizabeth Roney*, another admin of the group, which currently has just over 15,000 members.
“Something I personally appreciate about boomer posting is its accessibility for a lot of people. Despite sometimes being seen as possibly weird, it’s a kind of weird everyone enjoys. It really gives a sense of both nostalgia and community through that shared understanding of that one time you you had to walk your grandfather through what ‘Door Dash’ is, or watching your nephew make Grandma play Minecraft with him.”
And while spaces like ‘A Group Where We All Pretend To Be Boomers’ find relief highlighting the sometimes absurdity of the older generation’s online presence, there are other groups that instead focus on what the internet was.
‘We Pretend It’s 2007-2012 Internet‘ is a group with over 200,000 members and has the mandate that they “post memes and popular trends from those years, and generally act as if it is that era.”
Why? The group’s description will tell you it’s because “we are sad pathetic human beings“, but its also likely that there are hundreds of thousands of people online, trawling through Facebook and what it has become – racist family members and fake news and random Marketplace adverts – who enjoy spending some time pretending things were the way they used to be.
People post Plants vs. Zombies memes, ask each other for flash game website recommendations, and post about their hatred of twerking – writing in a time capsule that pre-dates the dance becoming well known before being churned into a viral craze, then disowned, and now just part of the digital lexicon.
It’s the digital equivalent of “back in my day”, but instead of respecting your elders and working harder than the youth, people are just nostalgic for a freer, more fun internet. It’s an easy way to remember what was, even for a brief moment.
Role playing on Facebook isn’t isolated to the last 12 months, either.
In 2015, reporter Justine Sharrock discovered a small community of people earnestly pretending to manage a company called Stackswell & Co, where users wrote fake emails about printer outages and iguana infestations on level four of the fake building their fake company worked out of.
It was called ‘Generic Office Roleplay,’ a place where people relished the opportunity to use the space as a mental health timeout, a place where you could say the things in fake emails that you wish you had said in real ones, at your phsyical, cubical-filled job. “The Group has become a window into the world of surviving the workplace,” wrote Sharrock, offering an insight – four years before it all took off again – into why people are using Facebook, the thing that has enslaved them in the first place, to escape.
In total, tens of thousands of people have bought in to the idea of devoting at least part of their lives towards a digital time capsule or a bizarre, stress-relieving, closed-off space, where reality is ignored (and often banned) in place of a happier, more palatable narrative. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it is. People are longing for what the internet was originally made to be, but face the reality that 2019’s version of the internet has constraints they now have to be play by if they’re going to be involved in the conversation.
Whether it be for nostalgia, for stress relief, or for fun, Facebook’s group feature is moving towards the forum culture we already had on the internet, years before Mark Zuckerberg even made it into Harvard.
Earlier this year, the Facebook CEO said Groups would be at the heart of the new Facebook experience.
While Pretend Facebook probably isn’t quite what Zuckerberg had in mind, people are still using his product. The irony is they’re doing it to escape the world he’s helped create.