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Labor for community on Facebook

Abstract

Digital platforms like Facebook offer marginalized individuals an appealing opportunity: to connect with others like them on a global scale. Transgender and nonbinary individuals, for example, can join ‘support groups’. However, these individuals also risk being ‘outed’ or targeted with hate-speech on a platform that offers visibility and connection. Excellent scholarship has critiqued the ways platforms perpetuate inequalities. However, few have examined the labor of human administrators who build support groups for gender identity minorities, despite these inequalities. This article asks how admin labor processes, both tangible and emotional, expose the cost of constructing a community on Facebook. Using a queer studies lens, it explores how administrators construct felt-belonging, sustain support, and defend members from being outed or targeted. Vetting new members and moderating group content act as repetitive labor processes which reiterate shared cultural ideologies of the community. This research finds something paradoxical: the feeling of disappointment fuels administrators’ commitment to continue difficult emotional labor. Paying attention to labor, especially emotional labor, reveals new tools for theorizing digital subjects and digitally-mediated social life. These tools refocus scholarly attention on why users turn to digital spaces and the human cost of sustaining community processes online. The case of gender identity support groups reveal that emotion, particularly disappointment, serves as an important lens with which to critique the sort of community digital contexts can offer

“Normative conventions and our own creative repetitions are there along the way to help quell the panic we might feel at the prospect of becoming exhausted or dead before we can make sense of ourselves.”-Lauren Berlant, Cruel Optimism (2011) p.125

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Notes

  1. A pseudonym is used to protect the identity of the admin and group.

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Correspondence to Madeline Smith-Johnson.

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Smith-Johnson, M. Labor for community on Facebook. AI & Soc (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00146-020-01108-6

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Keywords

  • Gender
  • Community
  • Facebook
  • Sociology
  • Identity
  • Computer-mediated-communication