The New York Times Cooking Facebook group will soon no longer bear the name of the publication: the Times has given up on controlling it and is taking its name off the group. According to a note posted in the group (which was then reposted to Twitter), control of the private 77,000-member Facebook group will be given over to members of the community who are interested.
The reactions from members of the group have been… something else, with one commenter saying the group was full of “Aunt Lydias” (a reference to the dystopian rule enforcers of The Handmaid’s Tale) and “hall monitors.” Another said they would delete the group, “freeing us all from this retched prison,” if given moderation powers.
In a post to the group by the Times announcing the change, the company explains that it had become clear the group was interested in “much more than recipes or The New York Times.” While it’s understandable that moderating a special-interest group can be difficult in the best of circumstances, according to journalist Erin Biba, there were only four moderators to supervise the nearly 80,000 users.
As for why the Times stepped away from the private group, it doesn’t seem like the decision was made in reaction to a specific incident. Times columnist Ben Smith reached out to the paper’s assistant managing editor, Sam Sifton, to ask why the Times was backing away from the group, and he responded that it is because the group was “a lot of people who want to post pictures of their dogs next to their soufflé.”
OK, I have reported this out. Per @SamSifton, there was no precipitating crisis, simply a realization that “it’s a lot of people who want to post pictures of their dogs next to their soufflé” and “not a place where we were going to March people toward NYT Cooking.” 1/
— Ben Smith (@benyt) March 18, 2021
The group has run into moderation issues before. It had a “no political views” rule, which a member broke around election season after a post advocating for a certain candidate. It seems that now, the group will have to decide for itself what it wants to be, separate from The New York Times.