There was the flurry of content warnings, the personal arguments playing out in the comments section, and the "outright demands" for the emotional labor of people of color. There was the post about one user’s obese cat, another about being too pretty to make any friends and another asking what to do after you discover that your boyfriend has allegedly been sleeping with every member of your immediate family, both parents included.
But at the end of it all, the final blow for Babes Who Blade was a debate over the word “bitch.”
For anyone who wasn’t a part of the group, explaining the rise and fall of the Babes Who Blade Facebook group can seem like — as one journalist and former member put it — “trying to explain string theory.”
Over the course of nearly three years, Babes Who Blade became an always-active discussion board for a group of nearly 8,000 users, most of them UNC students.
It only took about seven hours and one post to burn the whole thing down.
It started as a drunken joke: a Facebook page for a group of close friends.
Both of the group's creators were banned from Babes Who Blade long before it was deleted last month. Neither responded to multiple requests to be interviewed for this story.
The group grew quickly, mostly through word of mouth. Members made posts asking for recommendations, advice or support.
“At first I thought it was very helpful, because I was a freshman and I didn’t know anything,” said Grace Elliott, a rising junior who joined the summer before her first year at UNC. “So it was helpful to see classes to take, places to go — things like that.”
The group was meant to be an open discussion space for any person who did not identify as a cisgender man.
But Asia Chance, who is Black and non-binary, said they felt from the beginning that something was off — the minute they joined the group, for example, they realized it was overwhelmingly white.
“It was recommended to me by a white hallmate, saying, ‘Oh yeah, people can ask questions, you can get an answer to your stuff, you can ask about classes or campus life in general’ — (they) just kind of sold it like a social network on a social networking site,” Chance said. “... I wasn't fully told everything, and I feel like that's because the person that referred it to me was white.”
As time went on, Chance said, problematic behavior within the group grew more apparent.
“I noticed that the longer that I was in Babes Who Blade, the more I saw posts from white people — or more specifically, from cis white women — asking questions that were almost outright demands for emotional labor that POCs had to answer,” they said.
A typical post of this type would play out like this, Chance said: a member of the group would post a question or start a discussion with a viewpoint that some POC or LGBTQ members of the group found harmful. Those members would respond, correcting or engaging with the original poster — and then that person would get frustrated, upset or defensive.
“You can't ask a question like that, say you've done research and still not understand why you can't do something,” Chance said. “It blew my mind."
Shilpa Kancharla, a member of the UNC class of 2018, agreed.
“There was just a bunch of covert racism. It wasn't overtly saying anything,” Kancharla said. “And there was a ton of queerphobia, misgendering people — there was just a ton of that stuff going on.”
Both Kancharla and Chance, who are former moderators of the group, said there were difficulties in collaboration between the group’s leaders, as well as in the moderators' collaboration with members of the group.
"It was just a lot of drama, all the time, and it got super exhausting," said Kancharla, who was a moderator for about six months in 2019. "And at some point, I was just like 'I don't really have time for all this. I have other things to do.' So I stopped moderating."
Chance — who also stopped moderating for the group before its demise — said moderators sometimes failed to properly vet and monitor posts, allowing harmful points of view or inappropriate demands for emotional labor to be posted.
“You're not holding them accountable to learn, you're just making a post for us all to be angry at, instead of just not having the post to begin with,” Chance said.
On top of this, every now and then an anonymous post would surface in the group that read more like a joke than a genuine plea for advice, Elliott said.
This was where some of the group’s most famous or controversial posts came from, like the one that asked what to do when you find out your boyfriend has been having sex with your mother, your father and your brother separately.
Eventually, Babes Who Blade turned into what Kancharla described as a “sh-t show.”
UNC students — including Babes Who Blade’s original creators — made fun of the group on Twitter. A new Facebook group formed where Babes Who Blade members made fake, satirical posts, named, “A group where we all pretend to be in Babes Who Blade.”
Babes Who Blade started as a joke, and had turned into a meme. But Chance never really found it all that funny.
“I was never in the position to laugh at what happened within the group,” they said. “Mainly because some of the stuff that was laughed at, I was like, 'Y'all realize that this is one of those dangerous mindsets to have?’ Because it could be this next person who is deciding what happens to you."
When Babes Who Blade was erased from the internet, it appeared that there were only two moderators left running a page of over 7,000 people.
On May 16, one of the moderators made a post: “Please stop using b-tch in your posts and comments. They will be deleted, thanks.”
The moderator later clarified in the comments that the post referred to the word “bitch,” as opposed to the word “butch.”
One of the moderators declined an interview for this story. The other moderator did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Elliott happened to be on Facebook and saw the post only a few minutes after it went up on the group’s page.
“My gut reaction was just like, 'That's dumb. That's stupid. Why?’” she said.
Like lots of her friends, Elliott said, she often uses the word “bitch” casually and as a term of endearment — and it seemed silly that a curse word like this was the thing being heavily moderated, she said, after all the crazy things she’d seen in the group.
“So I screenshotted that post and I sent it to my friends and I said, ‘Today's the day I wreak havoc in Babes Who Blade. I'm gonna do it, I'm gonna get banned,’” she said.
She commented on the post: “Why.”
“There is a rule against gendered slurs in the group,” the moderator responded.
Elliott responded: “But… it’s not tho (sic), and making it such is giving into the misogynistic construction of the word as it was used to put down women but as women we’re allowed to use it as empowerment. I’m a dumb bitch and I’m proud!”
After her interaction with the moderator, Elliott was removed from the group. The post eventually racked up hundreds of comments, many of them questioning the new rule.
Then, the group was abruptly archived. Later that evening, it was taken down permanently.
“I initially commented probably at like, 3 p.m.” Elliott said. “And then at like 10 p.m., it was gone. It was insane.”
There isn’t really one reason explaining why Babes Who Blade was eventually disbanded, Kancharla said.
“It's not just any one thing, but it's just a combination of so many things at one time,” she said. “It's just pretty insane. I've just never been in a Facebook group that's like that insane.”
The same day that Babes Who Blade was deleted, former member Mikaela Mock created a new Facebook group, called “Babes Who Discuss.” It’s since been renamed “Bagels Who Discuss,” after members voted to change the “babe” label.
It aims to create a safe and open discussion space, Mock said, like what Babes Who Blade was originally designed to be.
“I feel like I can help foster an environment that was more inclusive and less problematic than Babes Who Blade. That's just kind of my goal,” Mock said. “It was really a spontaneous decision that night to just kind of say, 'Okay, I'm going to do this and see what happens.’”
As much as the group bothered them at times, Chance said, they were sad to see it erased from the internet forever.
“They didn't archive those resources that were left behind. We can't even go back to the group and look at old stuff — it doesn't matter that we can't post anymore,” they said.
It’s tough to see years of advice, guidance and resources just wiped off Facebook, Chance said.
“There was a lot of work and trust was put into some of these posts, made by good-intentioned people,” they said. “It was just erased, without regard to the fact that it could've still been used if the group was (just) inactive. And I think that's what hurts me the most about what happened to Babes Who Blade.”
Kancharla has joined Bagels Who Discuss — but she said she's not really sure how the group will play out.
“I guess it's hard to say, because it just started,” she said. “But my hope is that it doesn't turn into a sh-t show again.”
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