The Facebook Groups Where People Pretend the Pandemic Isn’t Happening

“Has anyone seen my friend Josh?” a man at a crowded concert asked last week. “I went to the bar for beers and now I can’t find him.” “Josh? Where are youuu,” a woman chimed in. “I brought enough earplugs for everyone! I know it seems lame, but you’ll hear the show a lot better and undistorted,” another attendee offered shortly after.
Losing track of a friend in a packed bar or screaming to be heard over a live band is not something that’s happening much in the real world at the moment, but it happens all the time in the 2,100-person Facebook group “a group where we all pretend we’re in the same venue.”   So does losing shoes and Juul pods, and shouting matches over which bands are the saddest, and therefore the greatest. Even the awkwardness of daily life is re-created in the virtual music venue, through posts such as “holds an empty cup the whole show because I don't know what else to do with my hands” and the riffing comments beneath them.
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The group was created in May by Natalie Miller, a 20-year-old fast-food worker from South Carolina who says she’s been missing live music more than any other aspect of pre-pandemic life. She now spends three to five hours a day there, volunteering to hold a broken bathroom-stall door for someone just trying to pee real quick, or handing out moderation privileges to whoever can most quickly get some water to her in the center of the mosh pit.
“I want to feel dirty again,” she told me, speaking dreamily of grotesqueries like sweaty bodies and sticky floors—all the things “you don’t really think about or acknowledge until they’re taken away from you.”
Role-playing in various forms has been a staple of the internet since its birth, and Facebook groups dedicated to the activity are not exactly new, either. Last summer, when Facebook redesigned its site and app around groups and started actively promoting them to users, absurdist groups started popping up in which members pretended to be farmers and cows, or middle-aged soccer moms, or participants in a multilevel-marketing scheme, or frogs in a pond. One group in which every person role-plays a member of an ant colony at all times has nearly 2 million members .
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But over the past few months, as the coronavirus has shut down much of the world and now U.S. cities have erupted in protests, the make-believe spaces on Facebook have taken a turn for the pleasantly boring. Rather than assuming the character of a farm animal or a resident of Twin Peaks , people simply stay in character as themselves. They do any assortment of not-that-interesting things that they would have done on an ordinary day a year ago and possibly resented, only this time they’re writing it out on Facebook with a tinge of longing. These groups provide escapism of a different and specific sort: a brief getaway...