Some of you might remember a slight, er, issue I had with selling some furniture on Gumtree a few weeks back. Well, after reading my article, a pal contacted me with some very interesting advice indeed.
I was to join a ‘closed’ Facebook group, she said, one that was specific to my area of Sydney, where people buy and sell used furniture. My friend, who was about to make the move overseas, had actually put a whole house full of furniture onto this Facebook group. It was gone within hours.
Huh, I thought. In the space of just a few weeks, this was the third ‘closed’ Facebook group I had been invited to join. Was this the new thing? Had the world wide web suddenly taken become…local?
It’s a catch 22 to write about this: after all, the first rule of fight club, is that you don’t talk about fight club. So whilst I cannot link you to the groups, or even mention their names – I can spill a few select beans.
Just a few weeks ago, a writer friend added me to a 9,000-strong Facebook group, comprised of young, entrepreneurial women. From all over Australia, they run events, meet-ups, and share their business ideas on the page. The discussion is smart, and fun, and inclusive; and whilst I wasn’t quite sure what to do, I was just flattered to be asked.
In the time since, I’ve realised that this is a veritable gold mine. These women are a sounding board, focus group, mentors, creative team, and story sources all rolled into one glorious location. It was genius.
The second group I was added to was a luxury 'Buy-Sell-Swap' group, specific to the cluster of suburbs I live in here in Sydney. I'm talking once-worn Louboutins, season-old Sass & Bide, and second-hand Miu Miu handbags for a steal. It's a 684-person treasure trove of discarded wardrobe items, and let me tell you sistergirl: it's addictive.
Yup, these closed Facebook groups are prolific: scratch the surface, and they are everywhere.
But how many people knew about them?
I threw out the question to the Mamamia office, and it seems almost every woman here bears the secret handshake of an even more secret Facebook group.
There are pages to organise your group university assignments, pages between girlfriends to arrange weekend party plans; there are the mummy groups for advice on all things 'baby', and there's even pages to form local car pools. No stone is left unturned. Once upon a time your community was gathered in the local park, or on a town hall notice board - but in 2016, it's all about the secret Facebook group.
There seems to be three different categories to the secret groups. Firstly, to make you laugh, or share a joke that's not only NSFW: it's Not Suitable For Anyone But Your Closest Girlfriends. Secondly, to offer help or advice - like a support group of online comrades. And thirdly, to procure fabulous things from people who no longer believe in their fabulosity. (That's my favourite type.)
Standout favourites include a group called Sew Rude, where ladies from a sewing group post about fabric that looks like penises and vaginas; and 'Dogspotting', where "...you basically spot dogs in funny, weird, or cute situations and slyly photograph them."
But there is a more serious side to these groups, which is all about offering support and advice in a safe space.
From domestic abuse, body image problems, LGBTI support, or those struggling with mental illness; the help is right there. Right at the tip of your fingers.
There's no standing up in front of a room of people, no 'stupid' questions, no filtering your story as to not look foolish - it's the better side to the anonymity of the internet; one that harbours the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
Jamie* joined a secret Facebook group of Australian's contemplating weight-loss surgery.
"It was recommended to me by a friend who has had the gastric sleeve surgery," she says.
"I've found it extremely helpful. Through the group I've been able to find out the details to change my private health insurance so it covers the surgery with no waiting periods, how you can use part of your super to pay for excess surgery, which doctors are good and how much you pay depending which surgeon/hospital you go to."
For Jamie, it's taken some of the guesswork out of her decision: finding out, first hand, how the surgery has changed people's lives, as well as some of the challenges they've faced post op.
"It's about the access, I can speak to people who are feeling the same way or going through the same things from all over Australia at any time," she says. "I'm not sure anything else offers that kind of reach and flexibility."
Did you know you had a hidden Facebook inbox? (Post continues after video)
Indeed, gathering people on that scale, from such far-flung locations, for an open and supportive conversation - well, it would be huge. And it would certainly not offer the immediacy nor intimacy that online conversations can.
But is there something dangerous about moving our support groups and peer advice (and second-hand shoe sales) online? Are we replacing the human touch, with pockets of secret online interaction?
And at the end of the day, what purpose do these online bonds serve?
In an article from The Atlantic titled 'How Real Are Facebook Friendships?', author Jacoba Urist tracks the multitudes of 'weak' online friendships we all carry.
And she's all for it.
“I would argue that, generally speaking, there are benefits to maintaining those weak ties," says Urist. "Social networks can provide a variety of information that our closest friends and family may lack.”
She gives an example: what if you have a burning questions that Google can't answer? Well, you can post a status update and get responses within minutes, depending on the breadth of your Facebook network.
"Sociologist Mark Granovetter has shown that relatively weak ties between two individuals can act as a “crucial bridge” between “two densely knit groups of close friends.” Acquaintances, as opposed to closer connections, are more likely to move in distinct social circles and therefore have access to a wider range of social information. An acquaintance can link one group to another."
Basically, a large Facebook network of friends and secret groups and strangers - well, it's a good thing. Kind of like your own heaving hivemind, on call 24/7.
Like passing a note around class in high school, there is a thrill to being apart of something hidden, secret, exciting.
And besides, isn't it always flattering to have someone extend the offer to join their secret club?
In a world where personal networks are being suffocated by social media and failing social skills, it's actually nice to see the internet being used to loop locals and/or like-minded folks back together again.
Local internet. You heard it here first.