Read: Community in the digital age
Tag groups are not new, but they have exploded in popularity over the past couple of years. The groups are an offshoot of what is known as “Weird Facebook”: a broad network of meme pages, groups, and cultlike characters that has injected your dad’s favorite social network with some absurdist humor over the past several years. “If David Lynch and Yung Lean could project their consciousnesses into social media, it’d be Weird Facebook,” Jordan Pedersen wrote in The Daily Dot in 2014.
Renee Cusick, who is a member of 6,000 Facebook groups, the maximum number the platform allows you to join, first noticed tag groups cropping up in 2014. Facebook added the ability to tag groups in comments, and fans of Weird Facebook figures such as Laird Allen, and later Jeff Conner and Gary Allen, began creating groups to react to people in the comments.
u might call having a 4.0 gpa and an internship success but i have successfully joined 50+ facebook tag groups and successfully replaced all “life update!” posts on my timeline with memes and petty rage‼️😤
— love child of marsha linehann and tom lynch (@lernlol) December 21, 2017
Soon, all types of people were creating tag groups and hundreds of thousands of users were joining them. Some tag groups have upwards of 150,000 members; some have just a handful. The ones that take off, take off quickly. When someone utters a new phrase on Game of Thrones, for instance, people rush to their computer to create tag groups named after the particular line. Any sentence can become the title of a tag group, and often the more niche, the better.
Some recent tag groups that have popped up in comments in my feed include: “Sounds like a weirdly specific question but ok,” “I would be shocked but depression and the internet has numbed me,” “die mad about it, sweaty,” “sounds stoned and wholesome but okay,” “what in the Florida man is going on here,” “I dream of being this petty,” “I went to hell for laughing at this,” “Wow, did you have to call me out like that?” and “Did you make this tag group just to use for this post?” As Brad Esposito reported for BuzzFeed, some people create tag groups simply in an effort to immortalize a catchphrase.
The core appeal of tag groups, however, is not their function as a reaction meme. It’s the escape they offer from the wider internet.
Joining a tag group is sort of like entering an AOL chat room, or discovering a new GeoCities web ring. The groups are open enough that usually anyone can join, and they tend to have a mix of people representing different areas, demographics, and interests. “To me, it reminds me of my early days on the internet,” says Gary Allen, who is also a member of 6,000 tag groups. “It’s like forum chatting.”
Some groups are strict and tightly moderated; some are a free-for-all. Politically, some skew right; some skew left. In some, people ask for advice on family situations or breakups; in others, members discuss current events. At least one couple met through tag groups and recently had a baby, says Jeff Conner, who founded the tag group they met in. It’s almost impossible to tell what kind of tag group you’re in until you’re in it: You join, see if you vibe with the people and community norms, and if not, you move on to the next.