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'The experiences that have stopped me from ever joining another Facebook Mums Group again.'

The world is a different place now. It’s a society where we would prefer to ask the advice of strangers than the advice of people we know and trust. The land of Facebook Mums Groups is wide and vast, it offers us a forum to ask questions, to share our triumphs and failures, to seek advice and share it.

From what homeware would work best in a specific space to what healthy food ideas people have to pack in a school lunchbox, the questions asked by women in Facebook Mums Groups are as immense as the groups that there are. In most cases, these mini societies are helpful and positive, but like the real world there is a ‘dark side.’

Out at dinner one night, Ella*, a friend of mine, started telling me about her experiences in some of these Facebook Mums Groups. Her decision to join a handful was made in attempt to find some solutions to home decorating and cooking issues she was having. But instead of finding helpful comments she instead witnessed behaviour that was totally shocking and made her adamant that she would never join another one of these Facebook Mums Groups again.

One of the groups in question has over 300,000 members. It’s huge! But it’s pretty specific and harmless, in theory that is. Ella made the assumption that posting questions specifically about products that can be purchased from this major retailer would be pretty innocent and that the responses would actually be about subject matter the group is named after. She thought that it wouldn’t lend itself to personal or greatly offensive comments, but this assumption Ella made was wrong.

In her time as a part of the group she witnessed behaviour that couldn’t be described as anything else other than bullying. “I noticed a post on my feed with around 50 comments despite it being less than an hour old. It was about a way this person had used a product in a non-conventional way to decorate her son’s bedroom wall. What she thought was sharing instead turned out to be an ignition for nasty, ill willed comments about this woman’s bad taste. It was so horrible,” Ella said.

Listen: Not all new mothers are suited to their Mothers’ Group. Some aren’t suited to Mothers’ Groups at all. And according to perinatal psychologist Kirsten Bouse, that’s absolutely fine.

It wasn’t a one-off experience either.

“The group was one of the rudest online platforms I have ever witnessed. It would go from someone asking a question about indoor plants to personal insults for asking the question, then name calling, outright swearing and direct attacks. It was just crazy,” Ella said.

“It’s like another world. These women, these mothers would say things to each other in this Facebook Group like somehow it was OK. Outside of cyberspace they wouldn’t even dream of saying any of it to someone in person.”

Ella soon found the behaviour too much to continually witness so she decided to remove herself from the group. And that’s the issue that seems to be becoming almost commonplace for those who are members in these groups. What is meant to be a safe place for sharing about merchandise instead turns into a vicious cesspool of bullying.

These bullying antics aren’t the only thing stopping Ella from joining these Facebook Mums Groups though; her experience with another Facebook Group left her overwhelmed with masses of posts on her newsfeed, mere minutes after joining. The cooking focused group has nearly 50,000 members Australia wide and about that same amount of posts per day.

“It was intense! Some of the posts were warranted and I understood why they were made but so many were super repetitive, the same question asked and answered about 30 minutes before or questions that were just common sense or could have been answered with a quick Google search. My favourite was when someone asked what they should do after leaving meat out of the fridge all night, like come on, is this a joke?”

My favourite was when someone asked what they should do after leaving meat out of the fridge all night, like come on, is this a joke?” Image: Supplied.
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Ella said this group would often become a forum to show off or to compete with the others in it. “It was like a competition of who could bake the most! It literally flooded my newsfeed," she said.

The breaking point though was when someone posted a question asking what people fed their kids for breakfast and there were over 300 comments in response. She then realised that this wasn’t helpful at all, in fact it was the opposite. “I could find the answers I needed quicker and more accurately without using this platform and I could log on to Facebook and actually see posts from my friends not just ones from that group,” she said.

It seems the art of asking someone face to face or those family and friends we know for help or advice is becoming rarer as online communities grow. But with that comes the ‘screen mask’ a barrier which appears to give some of these grown women in these Facebook Groups the confidence to inflict cruelty on others.

“I know not all of these groups are like this but unfortunately these experiences were enough to put me off forever. I’ll stick to other channels for help from now on," Ella said.

* Ella's name has been changed.

Have you ever been bullied in a Facebook Mums group?

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