The New York Times Cooking Community Facebook Group has more than 77,000 members, any and all of whom are welcome to post photos of what they’ve been cooking at home. It is, or is intended to be, an anodyne space in which to discuss “yummy” pasta recipes and showcase a grilled salmon you’re particularly proud of. The group’s description is simple and sweet: “This is your home to share tips, review what you’ve been cooking (and baking) and connect with other NYT Cooking fans. Come hang out! Oh, and bring an appetite. You’ll need it.”
Back in October, we shared how one of the Group Rules From Admins, “No political views,” had ignited a debate about whether posts encouraging fellow group members to vote (not for any particular candidate, just to vote) constituted a political message. Moderators were taken to task for deleting “VOTE”-related posts. People got clever by searing the word “VOTE” into their butternut squashes. It was a whole thing.
But as the New York Times Cooking Community Facebook Group’s numbers have swelled since its inception in February 2019, its population has become ever harder to moderate. And this week, it seems that the NYT Cooking moderators made the decision to abandon their child, as explained on Twitter by journalist (and past contributor to our sister site Gizmodo) Erin Biba:
“The NYTimes has lost all control over the Cooking Community Facebook group they created,” Biba begins, “and so instead of moderating it they’ve decided to completely abandon the 77,000 member group to its own recognizance and take their name off of it.” She goes on to note that “People are already fighting and [the moderators] haven’t even made any changes yet.”
The statement from the NYT cooking editors posted to the Facebook group reads (emphasis ours):
Over the two years since NYT Cooking established this group, you’ve shared photos of your cooking and your kitchens, and you’ve also introduced loved ones and pets. You’ve offered each other recipes and tips, and you’ve also supported each other in hard times. You’ve posted light-hearted jokes. You’ve engaged in difficult, meaningful conversations. You’ve even met up in person for drinks.
One thing is clear: The interest in this group is about much more than recipes or The New York Times. As it continues to grow and change, it should be run by people who are an engaged and informed part of the community. And so it is time to hand this group over to you, its members.
You are what make this community run – whether you post here daily, regularly leave comments or just check in periodically – your contributions are the value and the driving force.
We’ll be reaching out to those interested within the coming weeks. Then we will be stepping back as administrators of the group, removing its official affiliation with The New York Times, changing the name and handing it over to members to make it about all things cooking and food.
Food is a great connector. Through the lens of food, we can learn a lot about the world and about each other. It has been a pleasure to get to know you and learn from you, so thank you for teaching us and for being a part of this community. We are looking forward to hearing from you.
–The editors of NYT Cooking
The response from members of the Facebook group sounded like the range of reactions you might hear if the captain of a leaky ship announced that they planned to hop off at the next port. But one interesting pattern among the responses from both current and former group members was the consensus that things have been going sour in the group for “months” or “years”—and remember, the group has only existed for 25 months. According to Biba, one major issue the group has always been hindered by is a lack of moderators; as the group’s membership ballooned, the number of moderators tasked with keeping things civil and on track did not grow alongside it. Biba and some other group members said that only four moderators (none of them full-time) were responsible for sifting through the posts of 77,000 people.
The announcement that the NYT was stepping away was accompanied by a call for 10-20 volunteer moderators to keep the group on track. This did not go over well. “Oof, moderating this group would be stressful even if one was getting paid lol. Y’all are a handful!” wrote one group member. Other members suggested abandoning the group altogether, splintering into several groups that would be easier to moderate, and joining a rival group, NYT Cooking (without the drama).
Our heart goes out to the Facebook users who just wanted to show off the beautiful crumb on their sourdough bread. And to the overburdened moderators who, faced with the enormity of what their company had built, were forced to admit that their creation had exceeded their mere human ability to wrangle it. But, as many have pointed out, it might have been a better move for NYT Cooking to allocate additional resources to moderating the group, thus maintaining and building the NYT brand among this hyper-engaged audience, rather than closing up shop and handing off the reins to a loose assemblage of passionate volunteers. Whatever happens, we’ll always have Vote-gate.