The very reason why I thought an academic career was cool was because somehow I found myself researching digital and social media phenomena and also found audiences or fellow interested people who seemed to think that my questions and interests were important. At least that is how I managed for a long time, to continue researching B- and C-grade Bollywood cinema. It did not make a lot of sense to my parents but I guess even they thought that if someone else deemed this worthy research then maybe it was? Not just in terms of scholarly interest and especially, having removed myself from the B- and C-grade world (I was arguably too close, too much of a fan to have anything interesting to say about it), the very reason why I found myself researching subcultures was because I happened to dabble in them. Unironically. This was all pre reddit and 4chan so a lot of it happened on good old online fora, mailing lists, later Orkut and then a little bit on Facebook but most of it on Twitter.
Twitter subcultures, especially the hashtagging subcultures (#pwnd) have probably been better written about than other contemporary textual/linguistic subcultures and based on what I can tell, of my lived experience of a decade on twitter, the arrival of gifs hasn’t taken away from hashtagging. Its latest wave would include the appropriation of African-American linguistic cultures (for instance, “spilling the tea” but this wave can be summed up in the rise of “woke” as a tag). What was I doing amidst all of this? My dedication to shitposting only increased in the past decade. Perhaps it is the natural trajectory of someone who does so much wordplay and thrives so much on daily punning that I’ve had real people ask me in a mix of amazement and disgust if I just made it up or have a book somewhere. Passion and personal investment are the foundational blocks of any research, even if it involves studying social media subcultures. You can’t merely be an observer or a lurker. You probably enjoy and understand a lot of the phenomenon to want to write about it. My only research contribution stands in the form of Facebook Groups for social search (as research but also as having started a group that does *this* for 100,000 people). No biggie. Post this group-creation and social group wave, I lost interest in Facebook in terms of its creative, subversive potential as a world. I was also already deactivating and quitting Facebook for long periods of time to wean myself off this privacy-defying monster.
But then one day, in a post-Trumpian world, I was suddenly recommended an oddly funny group, definitely not based on my past activities. Or maybe I saw the group name appear as a response to a post on another group? I don’t remember. That is how I stepped into the world of ‘tag groups’, something that I have been swimming in for the past year now. I suppose certain kind of tag groups are a sub-group of Leftbook or Weirdbook [1, 2, 3] that is a broader umbrella world of pages, polls, events in the flavor of weird. No point me describing these to you, you could just read these articles that give great examples of all of these. What caught my attention after I got recommended my first weird Group (something these articles also note) is that most of them are private. Once you send a join request, *most* have 3-4 questions, almost always about whether you are transphobic and whether you would ever dox a group member or follow them to their private profiles and message them. That probably tells you how niche, sophisticated or queer-friendly Left this subculture is. But once you’ve entered, the topicality is almost never about politics per se. For instance, a sampling of groups that I have been recommended ( I always join all my recommended groups): 1) Now the group will perform the piece “dragging the OP” In C minor. 2) wait a minute this is not flavortown where the heck am i, but also these group names are often then responses to other group posts. People respond to a group post by tagging other groups whose names are the responses to the post (for instance, in response to a post on the “stop with the fucking letterboards” group, someone’s comment will literally be, “stop making that fucking face” or “a lot of words were said but none made sense” and both these responses are groups!). If all of this sounds weird and makes you go “<shrug> okay”, we are after all, talking about…weirdbook. This has kept me returning to facebook whenever I go there to post rental, sublet and furniture sale ads. Why this features on my occasional research reports blog is because I’d love to explore how ‘tag groups’ started, how they came to inherit the same rites of passage (no transphobia, no doxxing…) and how anyone gets their first recommendation of a ‘tag group’. That’s where my interest in Facebook Groups is at 🙂