After more than 13 years of moderating the “Jewish Philadelphia” Facebook group, administrator Len Lipkin is hoping to pass the torch.
The group — created by Lipkin on Sept. 22, 2008 — now boasts 3,600 members from the Greater Philadelphia community.
And with the group’s rapid growth over the past few years, Lipkin said he doesn’t have the time or energy to moderate the group’s posts and comments, which can reach up to 100 per day. Lipkin put out feelers in the community, asking group members and community organizations to help manage the page, but with limited interest.
Over Lipkin’s tenure with the largest Jewish Facebook group in Philadelphia, he’s noticed a lot of changes. Once created as a forum for area Jews to find synagogues or discuss Jewish current events and antisemitism, the group now serves as the virtual bulletin board for area Jewish programming, businesses and holiday events.
However, around five years ago, Lipkin observed another shift.
“When the 2016 election came around, there were a lot of people that started getting a little bit more testy with one another,” Lipkin said. “I started moderating, and we started getting spam, groups of people joining just to post ads and things like that.”
This wasn’t just the case for Lipkin. Other administrators of Jewish Facebook groups locally and nationally noticed a similar trend: increased political posting and advertisements that have caused their experiences on the social media site to sour.
When former Facebook data scientist Frances Haugen testified at the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee hearing on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Data Security on Oct. 5, she outlined Facebook’s alleged use of algorithms to further partisan agendas and expose younger audiences to content that may damage their mental health.
“It is causing teenagers to be exposed to more anorexia content. It is pulling families apart. And in places like Ethiopia, it’s literally fanning ethnic violence,” Haugen said in her testimony.
For Facebook group admins, political posts pose a nuisance.
Charles Schnur, administrator for the 2,600-member “Jews in Center City” group, said he’s noticed Facebook becoming a politically divisive space. He tries to keep politics out, approving posts about community events, not political discussions.
“I’ve done my best to make this as a unifying area for the Jews in the area,” Schnur said.
However, Schnur said this wasn’t the case in other Jewish Facebook groups of which he is a part.
“We live in a world where both Biden and Trump are antisemites,” Schnur said, referring to the range of opinions he’s seen in various groups. “Can’t we just, for a minute, put that all aside and find something we have in common? Whether it’s a Shabbos dinner, a Torah event, some other event — The labels shouldn’t matter.”
Even “Frum Fandom,” a Facebook group for Orthodox Jews to discuss their favorite science fiction and fantasy media — and where Schnur is a member — isn’t a sanctuary from politics.
Group admin Chesky Salomon said he sees a request to post something divisive about once a week. Salomon immediately deletes those requests.
“I forbid it,” he said.
Salomon believes that politics stray from the group’s purpose, and that “politics ruin everything.”
Dustin Kidd, a sociology professor at Temple University who studies social media, said Salomon’s disdain for politics in his Facebook group aligns with why others may be frustrated with the social media site.
“Political issues may be very important, but people also want a place of respite from them,” he said.
In combination with a “bombardment” of sponsored content and advertisements, Facebook can feel less like a place to disconnect with outside issues and more of a political and economic minefield.
However, Kidd — and all of his students — still use Facebook or other social media sites. Despite issues with Facebook, it’s sometimes the only place for people to find out about events and programming.
“Many of [my students] really hate these sites and want to get rid of them, but they feel like it’s so much a part of the way that they are connected to others,” Kidd said.
For all of its faults, however, Facebook isn’t all bad, Lipkin said. Last month, someone posted on “Jewish Philadelphia” asking for ways to help Afghan evacuees, pointing people toward HIAS PA and JEVS.
During the early days of COVID, Ronit Treatman, administrator of “Jews of Northwest Philadelphia” and “South Philly Jews,” saw Facebook as a beacon of hope.
“It was the only window that some people had to be with other people, especially those who live alone,” Treatman said.
Facebook has also made it easier for admins to moderate page traffic and avoid spam, allowing them to select frequent users to post automatically, circumventing the manual approval process. As someone who checks the “Jewish Philadelphia” site multiple times a day, Lipkin can keep his role as the group’s administrator in balance with his full-time information technology job.
Lipkin only witnesses political spats or spam posts once a month or so, and that isn’t why he hopes to resign from his administrative role. However, he feels as though the group hasn’t achieved the goal he had in mind in 2008.
From what Lipkin has seen, “Jewish Philadelphia” hasn’t helped people make new friends; it’s mostly a place for people to promote their events. Though useful and fulfilling a community need, Lipkin said, it’s fallen short of his goal of forging more profound connections.
“It’s not building community as much as I might have hoped that it would,” Lipkin said.