Waking up every day to look after 66,000 people
The trials, tribulations and occasional thrills of being a Facebook group admin
In the last five years, I’ve often woken up with a sense of dread, wondering what’s been happening with the Facebook fan group that I manage. What the hell am I going to see when I look at the recent group activity? What abominations happened overnight while I was sleeping? Will Facebook shut the group down for violations? Now that the season finale of the show has aired and the group is simmering down, I wanted to offer this retrospective on my experience as the admin of a Facebook group that at its peak had more than 66,000 members.
I’m guessing that Facebook as a social media entity won’t be around much longer, at least not in its current form. The corporation has now become Meta, which foreshadows a metaverse to come, but the rebranding is also a little ironic when you think about how Gen Z and Millennials use the term “meta” to mean anything that’s self-referencing, which describes the Facebook platform — meta, self-referencing, creating a digital mythology around itself while being supremely and arrogantly self-conscious about doing so.
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When Facebook finally expires or morphs into Meta (or something else), we’ll all look back fondly on the golden era of the Facebook experience, much like many millennials and older generations now look back on the golden era of MySpace. It will seem quaint to the Gen Z adults of the future, since we know Gen Z avoids Facebook like a clever mouse avoids a trap. Yet maybe there’s still some life in Facebook, and that life is not in its Westworld-like algorithms or its rotting attempts at community, such as Facebook Marketplace or Facebook Dating. There’s still a pulse in Facebook’s groups, particularly the fan-oriented groups where people from all over the planet and from all demographics sign up as members to chart about their favorite celebrity or movie or TV series whilst verbally tearing one another to shreds about anything at all.
I can’t speak to everyone’s experience with Facebook groups, nor can I illustrate what it’s like to be the administrator of any given Facebook group because they’re all very different, but I can tell you about my experiences, then you can draw your own conclusions. In 2017, I’d been a member of several Facebook groups and had only created one successful Facebook group before, the International Edgar Allan Poe Society, but I wasn’t managing that group anymore. I was a dedicated fan of the new AMC series Better Call Saul, and after searching for a related fan group and not finding one, I decided to pay tribute to the show by starting my own Better Call Saul group. In fact, I had the audacity to call it the “Better Call Saul Official Fan Group”, thinking the strategy would attract people looking for something more “official.” Whenever people challenged me on that title, I always responded that it was the “official fan group” because it was meant for people who considered themselves “official fans.” The group grew slowly and seemed to take a long time to reach the milestone of 5,000 members. In the early days of the group, there wasn’t very much engagement, in spite of my efforts to post stimulating and even controversial content about the show — a brilliant prequel series by the creators of Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould. Often the most popular posts were promotional photos of cast members, such as images of the gorgeous Rhea Seehorn, who played the emerging (and endearing) character, Kim Wexler. In fact, a photo of Seehorn reclining on a couch in a sexy pose was one of the most popular banners for the group page, which also had some women complaining it was sexist. Ah, maybe we exploited that a bit, but it was equal opportunity exploitation because we also posted cheesecake photos of popular male cast members, particularly Michael Mando, who played anti-hero Nacho Varga.
Group growth, 2019-2020
After a while, I realized I didn’t have to do it all myself. I could appoint someone in the group as a moderator or “mod”, which allowed them some limited powers but also let me keep control over it. My first mod was Crystal Loverro, an upcoming young actress who had joined the group as a big fan of the show; she was such a smart and outgoing person that she’d seemed like a perfect fit for the mod role. I also started noticing another member of the group who seemed very engaged and dedicated. He would post regularly and also flag any inappropriate posts or comments, which I appreciated because I never had time to read absolutely every post and comment, even back then. I asked him if he’d like to be another one of our mods and he agreed. At first he seemed to be the perfect foil or counterpart for me. My admin style is to be friendly, respectful, gracious and welcoming, but also to establish rules for good behavior so all members can participate without feeling that they’ll be abused or “trolled” for their opinions. He was good at weeding out troublemakers and either suspending them for rule violations or outright removing and blocking them. This was still working well for me, which was kind of a “good cop, bad cop” scenario.
Then one day it all blew up and someone told me about how he was being abusive to members and even contacting female members inappropriately. I found this shocking and suspended and blocked him, but he found a way to come back to the group a couple of times using a fake Facebook profile and even sent veiled threats to me. He was clearly an unstable individual, to say the least. I was relieved I had never trusted him enough to make him an admin, which would have given him the same level of control that I had. Eventually all the drama died down and my odd mod disappeared into the black hole of social media, but I never forgot that experience and it made me more diligent and cautious about who I appointed as a mod for the group.
Throughout 2019-2021, the group kept growing but there was a minimal amount of effort needed to maintain it as it expanded beyond 10,000 members. There were always a few cranks that had to be removed and blocked, but the core members of the group who loved the show kept contributing to it regularly. I was often told our group had far less abuse and drama in it than most other Facebook groups they were in. I was proud of that distinction because I sincerely wanted to make the group a fun, safe and challenging forum for all members. After more than five years of running the group, I can say the majority of our members have been reasonable, intelligent and fair-minded people who simply loved Better Call Saul and wanted to be a part of ongoing discussions about it. It’s been a privilege meeting so many of those members over the years — especially a few of the members I appointed as mods, and then as co-admins, during the lead up to the final season and right up to the extraordinary series finale.
The end is near, 2021-2022
In January 2021, we had reached the milestone of 10,000 members and growth was steady but slow. I could still vet every membership request, and I did — people had to answer screening questions and I checked if there were fake profiles or rejected shady membership requests. Over the years, we had our share of members who were not fans but simply spammers who were trying to sell Better Call Saul merchandise to our members — mostly T-shirts. I always removed and blocked those people instantly, not because the merchandise wasn’t relevant to members but because we didn’t want members who were just there to spam the group and didn’t really care about the show itself. The mods changed, too. Crystal left as she became more consumed with her career. One of my favorite mods, Raymond Alvarez, served the group so well but had to leave around 2020. For a while I had no mods to help me. Then the membership requests started flooding in as the date for the final, sixth season was announced. There were so many membership requests from people in Spanish-speaking countries as well, which puzzled me because there was an incredibly large Spanish-speaking Better Call Saul group that had around 90,000 members, so why didn’t they prefer that one. But again, so many people loved our group because we made it safe and fair for all members. We removed posts and members that were abusive in any way, whether they were sexist, racist, homophobic or discriminatory.
To help me manage a group that was growing by the hundreds every week — 15,000, 20,000, 25,000, 35,000 and upward — I added a new mod who had been a valuable contributor to the content, Michael Getsie. Michael brought the kind of intelligence, fairness and level-headness that I had always wanted for our group. We established a group chat on Messenger where we could regularly share war stories about who was being blocked, what funny things were happening, and other daily minutiae. We’d also talk about the show and where we thought the characters would be headed in the final season. Then the membership requests continued to grow, almost alarmingly — 40,000, 50,000, 55,000 — we gave up on trying to review and vet every member, now we had to use automated membership approvals. That freed us to pay more attention to the quality of the discussions and ensuring all members were following all the official rules of conduct. By the time season 6 had almost begun, we had around 60,000 members and actually decided to hide the group for a while so that the only new members would be those who had been invited by existing members. Hiding the group meant that anyone searching for a Better Call Saul on Facebook would not see our group, but those who were already members would be able to see it and receive notifications of group activity.
Around that time, Michael and I agreed it was time to add a new mod. Or two or three. It was a lot of work for the two of us. Ever since Crystal left, the group hadn’t had any female mods, so to ensure representation for our female members (which were in the minority, according to the stats Facebook provides about members), I put out a call for any women in the group who would like to be mods during the final season. While I was receiving messages from some women who were interested, I noticed one member, Courtney Glass, who was contributing a lot of valuable content and even had her own YouTube channel, Courtney's Reviews, where she discussed the show, so I invited her to become a mod and (thankfully for us!) she accepted. Courtney later recommended adding Aliza Tucker and then I recommended adding Coral Etkin, both of whom are bright, witty people with a passionate love for the show and its main characters, and are both champions and apologists for the show, too. Soon we had not one but two group chats going on Messenger for me and the four others. One chat was dedicated to group “business” and the other was our place for “chit chat”, where we could talk about the show as fans of the show. Believe me, some of the most interesting discussions were not always happening in the group itself — they were happening in the group chats, where the mods and I could freely vent about the group and our frustrations with managing it. Eventually it made sense for me to appoint them all as co-admins because I trusted them deeply.
So you wanna be a Facebook group admin…
Something needs to be said here about the crazy Facebook algorithms and group rules that are enforced without any regard for reasonable human behavior and rational discussions. And I don’t mean “crazy” as in “mental illness” because mental illness is a human condition and there’s nothing human about Facebook’s rules and enforcement. I mean “crazy” like Season 4 of WestWorld where the android hosts are controlling the humans.
In a fan group where members are discussing a show that can sometimes be violent and even shockingly violent, as we saw with the suicide of Nacho and the summary execution of Howard, it seems obvious there would be posts where people are talking about suicide, murders, killing, and other violent actions. Facebook’s mindless algorithms, however, seem to have no way of evaluating these posts in context as references to a FICTIONAL world, so any member who mentioned anything violent would have their post removed by Facebook. We admins and mods would only find out about this after the fact, and often Facebook would simply indicate they removed the post or comment and would not even show us what the offending words were! Then members would send us messages asking why their comment about “Lalo killing Howard” was flagged and removed. Facebook began sending us dire warnings that “your group is at risk.” We were all afraid that after all our efforts, Facebook would arbitrarily shutter our group before the final season had ended. We clamped down on any references to violence, suicide or anything sensational, and in doing so we suffered abuse from members who thought our policing actions were overbearing and tyrannical, but in the end, the group survived and we breathed a collective sigh of relief.
A few cautionary notes about managing Facebook groups. Here are a few things to expect if you ever want to create and manage one:
Members will argue and fight and slander one another brutally, if left unchecked. There will be blood.
Every scatterbrained theory about the show and its characters (including some of your own) will be proposed by members, regardless of any critical evidence to the contrary.
The bigger the group, the more spammers will be attracted to it, like mosquitoes to blood (see #1).
Members will often accuse the admins and mods of being ruthless dictators and enemies of free speech.
Facebook will eventually start removing posts arbitrarily and threatening to shut down your group, regardless of how much sweat equity you’ve put into moderating it.
Eventually, the essence of humanity itself will become swallowed up in the muck and mire of the group’s toxicity. You can try to rescue people, but it will be in vain. Save yourself instead.
I’m so deeply grateful for my four musketeers, Michael, Courtney, Aliza and Coral, as we shared the experience of managing more than 66,000 people on Facebook. No one ever seems to have written about what the experience is like, so maybe I’m the first. It’s been enough for me; I’m planning to post a graceful resignation. Although I will stay on as a member, it’s time for me to step down as an admin. I’m hoping the group will stay active for a while and at least one or two of my co-admins will keep fighting the fight.
As Jimmy McGill and Saul Goodman said: “S’all good, man!” We did it. We kept the group alive in spite of Facebook’s occult algorithms and all the shadowy (former) members who tried to terrorize others. Someday everyone who was part of the group may look back and fondly remember these fan years, as I do.
They may not even remember everything about the show, but I’m certain they will remember the way they felt being part of a community that watched the show.
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What a wonderful read!
I haven’t been here too long but the experience has been wonderful and I’m so honored that I got to share it with you and the other mods. I love this show so much and I feel dumb for not finding the group earlier.
Sure there have been some frustrating times, but that’s bound to happen. I feel overwhelmingly positive about my experience here as a whole. Just today we had a comment from someone who really appreciated the group and the mods, and just being able to communicate with like-minded folk…and it brought me back to my first post…(which was not too long ago!) that pretty much said that same thing; I was so happy to be in a place where I felt I belonged. It can mean a lot to someone who never seems to fit in anywhere.
Thank you so much for your contributions to this wonderful community. It’s been such an honor working with you.
Rereading this now after accruing more admin experience and it's so right on. Things quieted down a lot after the show ended in August 2022. There was still a lot of discussion about the finale but members quietly started leaving the group. Things would heat up again any time there were awards given out. BCS has been consistently & unjustly ignored & there was a lot of outrage.
We are now at 62k members, with 3 equal admins; Michael, Aliza, & I have chosen to stay. The biggest struggle now, at least for me, is trying to keep the focus on Saul when many members now want to share Breaking Bad posts that are not directly related to BCS. Of course there is overlap, but we don't need the "Skyler is a bitch" discussions. I even added "Skyler" as a key word to be flagged. Perhaps we should also add "SkylAr" since so many people misspell it...
There are still creative ways to keep the Group going & we're doing our best to take care of Garth's legacy. It IS still all good, man.