Group Behaviors

                This paper establishes only an introductory analysis of 17 Facebook groups and excepts two, highlighted in blue:

  1. Pro-Chief People Wouldn't Know Racism if it Bit Them on the A$$! (anti)
  2. I’M anti anti-Chief People (pro)
  3. If you hate the Chief then I hate you (pro)
  4. F*** the Chief (anti)
  5. Do “It” For the Chief (pro)
  6. RIP Chief Illiniwek, Forever in Our Hearts (pro)
  7. The Native Americans Almost Had Their ENTIRE RACE Taken From Them. (anti)
  8. Chief Illiniwek Forever. (pro)
  9. Signatures for the Chief (pro)
  10. When I went to U of I we had a Chief (pro)
  11. Bring Back the Chief (pro)
  12. You took our Chief but you will never take our money (again)! (pro)
  13. Anti-Chief (anti)
  14. Don’t Like the Chief? Go Somewhere Else… fuckin Idiots! (pro)
  15. Chief Illiniwek, We Will Never Forget (pro)
  16. Save the Chief (pro)
  17. We’ll Never Forget Chief Illiniwek (pro)

                Surface-level content analysis reveals some immediate trends in even just the names of the groups here.  Several contain high-powered, strong-sentiment words, such as those of explicative (swearing) nature (1, 4, and 14), overt hatred or disdain (1-4, 14), remembrance and nostalgia (6-8, 10-11, 15, and 17), and potentially resistance (5, 9, 11-12, 16).  The descriptions of the groups also follow similar trends, with anti-chief groups voicing concerns about respect and representation (1, 4, 7, 13) and social damage or racism (4, 13).  Pro-chief groups profess dislike for anti-chief people (2, 3, 14), resistance to or disagreement with the removal decision (5, 6, 9, 10-12, 16, 17), school pride, honor, and memory (8, 15, 17).
                Though it cannot be formally statistically backed at this time initial estimates of group membership suggest (and this will seem obvious to most) more white members belong to pro-chief groups and more people of color belong to anti-chief groups.  Corresponding to this potential link the largest anti-chief groups (Anti-Chief and F*** the Chief) have only around 250 members each, where as just the biggest three pro-chief groups dominate the largest groups in the UIllinois Facebook scene with Chief Illiniwek Forever (7,900+ members), Save the Chief (5,300+ members which surged to this amount in under a year), and We’ll Never Forget Chief Illiniwek (4,300+ members) and numerous other groups numbering over a thousand or high hundreds.  The big pro-chief groups often shared each other in common on the related group listings, as well as Illinois Basketball, the Bears, and Illini Pride.  Anti-chief groups had common references to racially themed groups like America’s Nightmare: Young, Gifted, & Minority and political affiliations, such as promoting Barack Obama.  People in both groups seemed to really like Colbert.  Videos and posted items were almost never used by any group (may have been added after the inception and most active periods for many of them) and pictures really only ever consisted of pictures of the Chief or protest.  The discourse in operation in each group is where the true findings are to be had.

Facebook as a Digital Space

                First, a word on Facebook groups as digital spaces.  In any face to face world ethnography researchers carefully observe their environment becoming a sort of unit of measurement.  They take into account the collage of noises, aromas, textures, lighting, and tastes of the atmosphere.  The digital landscape is a considerably collapsed context but still contains pertinent environmental features.  Just like in advertising when sometimes the presentation of a product even alters how customers think it tastes (Gladwell 2007), the interface, layout, demeanor, and interaction mediated by the systems of Facebook plays a crucial role in fabricating the space for participant actors.  Some of the automated and unintentional functions in the ecology even have their own sort of agency and might further influence this already complicated web of interaction (Ginger 2008).  Luckily for the scope of a Facebook group this is mostly limited.
                Facebook group web pages feature the same sort of interconnectivity that is found everywhere else on Facebook.  Many components are linked and menus are limited to clean easy to read typefaces and separators.  They have a main central column and a side column.  Upon visiting a group an observer will quickly notice its title at the top of the central column followed by the main information below, including name, type (such as common interest, used for categorical searches), description and other contact information.  Below this resides recent news in short text format, then photos, videos, and posted items all with potential thumbnail previews, a compressed view of the discussion board with a preview of three topics and post data and then the wall, a sort of simple guest-book like form that users can fill out to leave their remarks publicly on the page.  Sitting neatly between the wall and discussion board section is a member listing area, with 6 linked thumbnail previews of random1 members and the total members listing, which is linked to a search return for all members in the group.  Each wall post contains the poster’s name, time and date information, response options, and linked thumbnail picture preview, giving a robust impression as users glance about the page.  Really just about everything is linked and tied to the face to face world with pictures.  The right column has perhaps the most noticeable element of the group profile, its picture, which is generally pretty limited in size.  Right beneath this are navigation and action options, such as the ability to view the discussion board, join the group, or if you are an administrator recruit or manage members and edit the group.  Officers are listed below this, with linked names and subtitles pertaining to their position in the group.  In the case of most chief related groups these titles are indicative of member sentiments and not actual real-world positions related to an organization.  Related groups are found beneath this, with a link listing and category subtitle.  Finally at the bottom comes the official group-type information and administrator(s).  The layout is both organized and friendly, and adheres to sound principles of graphic design, information retrieval and display, and human-computer interface (HCI).  The group architecture is both dedicated to linking people together, but preserves the normal separation of profiles and privacy seen on the rest of Facebook.
                The ways users engage with this space and interact with each other within it should be a crucial component to building a user typography, should a researcher take this sort of task on.  The actions taken in response to or use of the interface can sometimes reveal a great deal about the interest, capabilities, and preferences of a given user.  Even the decision to create or administrate a group in itself (as well as get the group to become popular) suggests something about a given member.  With these intricacies and a general idea of the space in mind, we turn to some discourse analysis.

back to findings | forward to discourse analysis

[1] Well maybe not random.  My personal observation has lead me to believe these random return queues give priority to returning people you happen to know.  Such a feature would make sense as it would encourage more connective use of the system.  I haven’t conducted a test on this yet