As any parent in 2018 knows, if you have a question about parenting, the interwebs will help you out – and often in the form of Facebook mothers groups.
One such group is Mums The Word, started and administered by Sydney mother Carly Abrahams.
The group provides practical advice and support to parents, and relies on the 25, 000-strong community to contribute. Like the majority of groups on Facebook, it’s been free to join – until now.
Abrahams recently posted that she was requesting a $10 payment from current and future members to compensate her for the considerable time and effort she spends administering the page. The administration work, she explained, included the costs of running the page, managing memberships, monitoring comments and replying to messages.
“Managing and monitoring this wonderful Facebook page is a 24/7 job for me,” Abrahams wrote. “I get messages on weekends, late at night, from 5:30am and everything in between and if I don’t respond they just keep coming.”
“I ask that if you have ever found this group useful, if it’s every helped you find a babysitter, plumber, cleaning tip, baby support, parenting advice or anything at all and you’d like to give back or support then you can just click this safe and secure PayPal link.”
Whilst charging a subscription fee is technically not prohibited by Facebook, the group's 24, 000 members had an impassioned response to the request. Many were suspicious of how the funds would be spent, queried tax implications, and were outraged they were being expected to pay for advice and information provided by the community.
"So how do we know that the group won't be closed after spending the $10?", one asked. Others offered to help administrate the page if the task was too arduous on the founder. Many members did the maths and calculated that if every existing member were to pay, the page would receive $240,000.
But the post was also met with some support. One user commented, "I'm totally up for it. Carly is a single mum with health issues trying to make ends meet".
And there was yet another sort of response to the controversial post; the threat from some members to take matters into their own hands and create a new group entirely. That threat was made good by one user, who started the brand new "Mums Advice - Free" group, which at the time of publication has almost 1,200 members.
LISTEN: Real life Mothers' Group not for you? You're not alone. We discuss, on our podcast for new parents.
Charging users for group memberships isn't a new concept, and is not illegal or explicitly against Facebook policy - but is it ethical? It could be argued that it defeats the purpose of group, which is usually about the free sharing of information to help make people's lives easier and better.
But as a member of an Australian medical mothers' group told Mamamia, "In America the physicians mum group has to do it because the discussions get intense. They’ve banned political discussion in it but still need basically a full-time moderator".
That is one of the points made by Abrahams; she wants to put in the time and effort to continue to ensure the page is a "safe, supportive group for all members", and not just a forum for trolling like many other areas of the internet.
She needs some support doing that - but judging by the response of her members, delegation and relying on the village she's built may get a better response than charging.