I say this from experience. As you may or may not be aware, I run a Facebook group called Newsletter Nerds
, which is a community designed for people who write editorial newsletters to discuss the ins and outs of doing so. It’s a relatively tight-knit group of around 1,500 members, and is a mix of traditional journalists, marketers, writers, and startup operators that serve the newsletter community. It’s fairly rare that existing members create any drama, and the group has remained of a very high quality in its four years of existence, which I’m proud of.
But managing the process of letting people into the group? That’s a whole different story. I’ve set up a system for approvals, to ensure that folks coming into the group are not going to spam it. I set up rules, and have a set of membership questions that I expect people signing up to fill out. The questions are, essentially:
What is your background in email?
What is a link to your social profile or newsletter, so I can confirm that you are who you say you are?
What do you hope to get out of the group?
And despite putting in multiple places that answering these questions are required, barely anyone does it! This would be fine if it was on Twitter, where I could send these members an at-message, or via email, where I could at least put something in their inbox. But my only way of contacting most of these people is Facebook Messenger, and Facebook Messenger has a convoluted system of message requests that ensure that few people actually see your simple requests that they answer your questions. About 80 percent of the time, I might as well be shouting into the void.
So my options are these: Don’t let in 80 percent of the people who sign up, or letting everyone in and letting the quality of the group decline, face spammers and trolls, and generally get off-topic. (I chose the former; based on its size, I’m sure the NYT chose the latter.)
This is a design problem of Facebook Groups that I cannot simply set these questions to be required with new signups, and that I can’t message people under the guise of the group in a way to ensure that these people signing up will see it. (After all, they were the ones who knocked on my door!)
And as a result, I have to spend an inordinate amount of time tracking people down just so I can reasonably ensure that I’m only letting in people who have a reason to be there.
This lack of ability to properly pre-screen means that Facebook is basically setting up its groups to be really big and really hard to moderate, which benefits nobody.
I am happy with what I’ve built with Newsletter Nerds, but if I were to do it all again, I would not use Facebook Groups. It sucks to manage because Facebook has not designed it correctly. It creates moderation problems that add unnecessary busywork to my week, time I could be using to make my group better for its intended audience.
And I can only imagine how that cruddy situation plays out at the scale of The New York Times.