On how an old technology, hiding in plain sight, is going to change everything.
I'm in a groupchat with a dozen or so liberal guys who all went to fancy liberal arts colleges and are all generally "woke". We even have a few openly gay members in the chat. The content in this chat consists of posts that are so outlandish it would easily all get us fired immediately if it became public, and boy do I love it. We all know everyone is acting in good faith and mostly being ironic anyways, and when someone goes too far people just ignore it. It's strangely one of the things I value most in my life and hope it never ends. It's nice to have a safe space to get jokes off.
This was another great article, Ethan. Part of the reason why it feels like society is fracturing is because people in elite spaces seem entirely disconnected from non-elites. So when things don't go the way elites expect then they freak out and blame nefarious forces. If you disagree with mantras like "trans women are women" then you're just a boorish bigot. Elites didn't stop and ask whether norms are changing too fast, or if they persuaded enough normies first before they began handing out punishment for said disagreement.
Orthodoxy that's enforced from the top-down is a recipe for more fracture.
I've been thinking about this more than I care to admit lately: a lot of ESPN employees act as if twitter is their group chat. I see so many tweets that I'm like....you are all on a show together...you should be friends off twitter...this should be group chat stuff...the only reason you're saying this publicly is for attention...do they even realize how performative they've become?? ...it's sad either way.
This reminds me of one of the few "politically incorrect" group-chat discussions I had that happened solely because I would never say it fully. Sarah Fuller as Vandy's "kicker" was a patronizing farce. The coach did not think she was good enough to be on the team and made that glaringly apparent with his decisions. Who did kickoffs? The punter. Who kicked field goals? The punter. What exactly is the point of having a kicker that only attempts the easiest kicks? There wasn't one. Maybe she was good enough to be out there, but her coach CLEARLY didn't think she was!
This just made me sad that I’m not part of an anti-woke group chat. I have one likeminded IRL friend that I text with all the time… but no group. I suspect people don’t invite me because my demographics suggest that I’d be woke.
I agree with the thrust of this article.
I find it interesting to think of public social media as the public square it was advertised to be/replace. The public square is idealized many places - by Hannah Arendt as the place the Greeks and Romans learned and practiced civic life, with essentially all political philosophy and commentary lionizing public parks and squares in a similar vein.
That is true a few places. However, in most of the country such a public square did not exist, and in many places never had. Public parks grew more popular as they'd become safer. However, they were where folks brought their kids to blow off some energy, not to discuss politics with their fellow citizens. That was the parks that were in use - many were not, having been given over to the downtrodden, homeless, and destitute thanks to our laws protecting their access to those places, and the predictable abandonment of them by many folks in response.
In those communities, the public square of Facebook and Twitter was and is something new, or at least not seen in decades. But they are suffering the same fate as the romanticized public spaces they supposedly were replacing. To the extent folks are walking/scrolling around them ranting about politics, those folks are considered crazy and avoided. Some folks persist in them to the extent they can fashion a small and uniform or insular community in them - essentially the parents who take their kids to parks, recreated as knitting groups and various other enthusiast communities.
Everyone else is realizing what unpleasant places they are to be and abandoning them for more congenial environments - the private social media, playing the role of Starbucks and other private gathering venues in providing places for like-minded folks to gather, free from the unpleasantness of the public realm and those who inhabit it.
Excellent article. Using that NYT “study” as a point of departure was terrific. You hear the thought sometimes these days from men -- “people don’t want to hear what I really think,” and you ask them to tell you and it’s often just impolite but nothing really bad or profound. They just want to vent a bit and move on. The observation that group chat is where we can speak freely in small groups because we know the people in the group is a great observation. In the early days of Twitter, you knew the people who followed you and you followed them. Then it took off and most people are now strangers and even the term follower seems creepy. Loved the Vonnegut passage.
"Well, in the Group Chat, people are confiding in one another about how the top-down Covid mandates they lived through don’t appear to have mattered. They’re talking to friends, as loud as clandestine can be, about how so much of this was bullshit: the continued restrictions absent supporting evidence, the decay that came with them, and the stigma against pushback. People, the type of people who enthusiastically supported a lot of restrictions in the chaotic early going, are waking up to feeling worked over. Their version of saying it sotto voce is actually to now say it loudly, but to one another, in the Group Chat."
The perspective of journalists in California is fascinating to me. I don't discredit your experience; I'm sure you've been living under intrusive and (at least sometimes) enforced restrictions. I believe you that many of these have been burdensome and annoying, despite some seeming to lack basic logic or coherence.
I just don't share your experience in the slightest. My parish never really enforced the statewide mask mandate; it officially stopped, in defiance of the statewide order, over 8 months ago. Our kids went back to school in August 2021; since that summer, essentially all businesses have been open and free to operate as normal.
I've appreciated this during the lulls in cases. However, overall I did not and have not experienced this as welcome freedom vs what my friends in California are living through. I was unable to enjoy it most of the time, as in any locale we were at the mercy of the lowest common denominator who decided to venture forth that day - never masked, not-infrequently infected and symptomatic, always defiant and insistent they had the right to be shopping/eating/socializing too.
At one point last summer during the Delta surge my region of the state (not New Orleans) had the highest (or second highest, depending on how one dated the Botswana statistics) death rate in the world. It wasn't just old people either - they suffered the worst, but there were plenty of deaths, and even more very bad hospital stays, among the middle aged, and even children.
The surge to the highest rates in the world (versus upper-middle of the pack, where we'd been before) corresponded with our repeal of essentially all anti-COVID mitigation measures. Those crummy studies like the one you linked to? Folks took those seriously and stopped trying to do pakon to prevent it. The result was horrific; nothing could change people's minds.
A middle-aged guy proudly ran for Congress and won while eschewing COVID safety measures. He caught it and died - as a state legislature had died the previous legislative session from COVID - leaving behind a widow and child. His widow ran for his seat and won. It wasn't even contemplated that she'd support anything but letting the virus rage unchecked.
I don't know if you'd prefer it or not - when cases have been down, it certainly has been nice to experience "normal" life again. However, to have the virus spreading like wildfire around you as students and teachers from your kids' school are hospitalized, and still masses of people everywhere proudly refuse to wear a mask (much less get a vaccine) even when you plead you'd like to bring your immunocompromised child or pregnant wife somewhere - I didn't enjoy it or consider it worth it.
Regardless, many regions haven't been experiencing the oppression of California vigilance. We have different group chats as a result - about the frustration and despair of living in such an environment and wondering what the cost will be of the mistake we made not to move somewhere else - anywhere else but the place with the highest death rate in the world.
Can we get a group chat going for HoS subscribers? Perhaps a Discord?
Wish this one was free so I could share with my group chat. Speaks so perfectly to exactly why we do what we do. I guess I'll just have to do my part and convince them to subscribe.
I feel like you’re overlooking the massive massive flaw in this logic in that group chats like the ones you’ve described just turn into echo chambers where members think their stances are more popular than they are because their ideas get reinforced constantly. Just like how an “anti woke” substack writer could attract a whole lot of other “anti woke” readers and have them all convinced they’re the silent majority when all evidence is to the contrary.
It's an interesting tidbit you put out there, how you don't personally know anyone who voted for Trump. Yet you seem careful to not cross the line of getting into electoral politics when discussing culture. On some level I can understand why you don't want to. But, another part of me thinks that's an avenue you would do very good at uncovering, especially given the fact that the politics coverage in this nation is not grounded in reality. Maybe you would piss some of your readers off. But are you and your friends really all that subversive if you are nibbling on the edges of why mainstream democrats are really pu***ies, but the modern day GOP is b*t-sh*t crazy? Is that too offensive to too large a slice of your subscription base?
How much of Group Chat is about a changing paradigm in content moderation? I don’t find the form factor all that innovative. You noted it’s been around for a decade and you could make a case it’s been around for much longer as chat rooms, listservs and BBS.
I would welcome your pontifications on content moderation design patterns. You’ve got a deep perspective here from your experiences as a social media aggregation grunt to beat writer battling a mega team PR department to early contributor of a disruptor media outlet to now having your own community.