A Tale of Two Facebook Groups

Fenster writes:

My newfound interest in nature has been spurred by retirement, with a side interest in foraging spurred by my concern over the coming End Times.

I am consequently a member of a number of Facebook groups devoted to tree and plant identification. These are particularly helpful if considering foraging, since it pays to double and triple check anything you plan to ingest before doing so. Facebook groups have some downsides in this vein, as you always run the risk of an instant expert assuring you that that poisonous mushroom you found is perfectly edible. But in a more comprehensive program including books, online resources and locals with expertise Facebook groups can perform a valuable service.

This is especially so when, as with some of the groups I am a member of, moderators are present who actually do possess expertise. They can tell you that your photo is not clear enough or that they are not quite sure what it is you have found. They can also step in an authoritatively settle debates that would otherwise rage between amateurs.

Some of these groups are quite large and extensively moderated. Until its recent closing Plant Identification and Discussion had over 328,000 members. The mushroom Identification Group has around 186,000 worldwide, with almost 50 moderators (a good idea given that mushroom toxicity is a larger risk than plant toxicity).

In the past month or two both groups were faced with what in some ways appeared to be an invasive species: wokeism. Each group was faced with the issue of posts declaring support for Black Lives Matter, this under the pure woke notion that anything not explicitly anti-racist is racist, and everything everywhere has an obligation to declare anti-racism.

The members of the Plant Identification Group were able to articulate objections to this kind of takeover. The comments section became a kind of brawl, with the plant people arguing the group should be about plants and the political people calling them racists, and demanding that the group declare itself loud and proud.

There were many, many comments in this brawl, and I think I read all of them. Suffice to say that despite the claims of the BLM supporters that the air was thick with disgusting racism the only objections I found were what a clear-headed normal person might expect. “Hey, I might even agree with you but let’s keep this about plants.”

The moderators were in a pickle. They could see that the invasives were a minority (though of course they were almost uniformly white). But if they stepped in to manage the discussion it would only add fuel to the fire, with the racist moderators becoming the target of the woke crowd. They urged people to step back from engaging in the political fray on the grounds that no good would come of constant bickering. Just stick to the plants!

But there is a deep logic to Alinsky tactics. The invasives were obnoxious for a reason. You felt you wanted to jump into the fray and pop that kid in the snoot, and many did. The battle raged on.

The moderators said they would retreat from the battle but that they would attempt to review the proceedings, and would drop any from the group who acted provocatively or outside the rules set up for decent discourse. That net might have caught a few angry “racists” but for the most part you could tell it was intended for the real provocateurs, the woke crowd.

So all is well in Plant Identification and Discussion? Not really.

It appears the moderators gave up. The group has been archived.

That’s one way to win, Alinsky-style. Try to beat them into submission but if you fail make life miserable so that you kill of the object of your infection.

Now on to the Mushroom Identification Group.

One of the moderators started the to-do, posting Black Lives Matter material and declaring on behalf of the group’s 186,000 members worldwide that the group stood in solidarity.

Here, though, for a reason I am not clear on, things evolved differently. Many hundreds of comments ensued. But unlike the Plant Identification group very few took issue with the moderator’s game. Those that did stated their objections in a normal, placid fashion. “Hey, this is a mushroom group.” But these comments were immediately savaged in what seemed like unrelenting swarms.

To a seemingly innocent question like this–“why are we seeing this in a group specific to mushrooms?” — all hell breaks loose.

“Kelly why are you so upset about it? Are you racist?”

“What does this have to do wi…. Shut up. If you don’t support shut the hell up or leave. End of story. We don’t want racists here.”

“This is fantastic!!! More and more are showing support. Abolish racism!!!”

“If our black brothers and sisters can be arrested while mushroom hunting and providing important genetic material for study, then this is our problem too.”

“can we turn comments back on? 🥺 It makes it so much easier to delete & clown racists when they can out themselves lol”

“throw out the garbage!”

“no need–it’s taking itself out”.

“The people complaining about this post should be booted from the group and can attempt to ID their own mushrooms. What a shame it would be if they poisoned their racist asses!”

“I had no idea how many confederate flag toting racists there were in this group. It’s sad really. I’m glad 2020 is exposing the filth.”


What is going on here?

For one, while it is tempting to think this was a sudden takeover by Antifa outsiders, new “members” with no interest in mushrooms, that does not seem to be the case. I checked a few of the nastiest commenters and they had a history with the group and an interest in mushrooms. So some of the lunacy seems to be organic, growing from the fertile soil of interest in mushrooms.

On the other hand that brief survey of commenters revealed that most all were young and white. Privileged, even, if I had to take a guess.

So here the activists won but in a different way. With Plant Identification they lost the battle but won the war. Here they won the battle–but what war did they win?

There is, sad to say, no deep connection between the identification of mushrooms and radical politics in Trump’s America. So having hoist the Jolly Roger the group is back to its usual thing: posting pictures of mushrooms and asking for advice. If I had to guess I would say that the vast majority of the 186,000 members around the world either missed the controversy or sat back to wait for it to blow over.

But in symbolic terms the activists have won this one as decisively as the last. For the foreseeable future the Mushroom Identification Group is down with the Revolution.

About Fenster

Gainfully employed for thirty years, including as one of those high paid college administrators faculty complain about. Earned Ph.D. late in life and converted to the faculty side. Those damn administrators are ruining everything.
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1 Response to A Tale of Two Facebook Groups

  1. On the net droppin knowledge says:

    There is a guy on instagram called stevie_funfur. He’s a master forager, homesteader, and hunter. He uses technology, but lives about 90% off the land. I never knew how many eatables could be foraged until I came across his feed. Amazing IG feed if you’re into that kind of thing.


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