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When Overheard died

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FEBRUARY 22, 2020

In the middle of spring break in 2018, I spontaneously became the leader of perhaps the most exclusive and unique extracurricular on campus: Overheard at UC Berkeley.

Overheard had been a notable presence at UC Berkeley since long before that, of course. The original group was founded years ago by a student whose name seems to have been forgotten. The simple concept – post things that were overheard on campus – proved effective, and by 2018, the Facebook group had amassed more than 46,000 followers. 

But when the group disappeared from Facebook during that fateful spring break, nobody really knew what had happened. The group admin was nowhere to be found, and the best guess was that Facebook had deleted the group on its own. 

That’s where I came in. I realized that I could fill the hole that the original group had left if I acted fast enough, and I found myself really wanting to do so. The previous group had (at least during my time at UC Berkeley) lacked true moderation, and I felt that I could bring a higher level of commitment to the role of a group leader. Though I had obviously never run an overheard page before, I figured I would learn as I went and, above all else, listen to the people of UC Berkeley. If I didn’t do it, who would? 

The bystander effect can be very strong, and maybe the answer would be “no one,” and I couldn’t stand for that. I knew that even if someone other than me did take on the job, I would regret not taking the opportunity to run such a uniquely important Facebook group when I had the chance. Though running something as big as Overheard would be a big time commitment, I saw that the group was important to thousands of people, and therefore, it felt important to me.

I couldn’t stand to see the important work of running the group being done incompetently. At least if I was the one making the mistakes then I could fix them myself and be satisfied at the end of the day. Despite the difficulties that come with operating a public page, at heart, I am a performer, and I felt like running Overheard was a form of public performance. Though running a Facebook group isn’t art per se, thousands of people would be, at least indirectly, appreciating the work that I would be doing to make the group the best that it could be. I thought I could get a lot of personal satisfaction out of this.

I realized I had to act fast, so I quickly made sure that the previous group leadership truly was unresponsive and that the original group was gone for good. At the time, I was also a moderator of UC Berkeley Memes for Edgy Teens, so I had the platform to promote the new group to the student body. Hastily, I created a new group and a new cover photo and invited all my friends.

I tried to remake Overheard to be as close to the original as possible, but one of the things I added was the Overheard Archive. This Google Drive folder contains the top 20 Overheard posts for each month since I began running it. I did this in the spirit of recording the history of Overheard, which will be important if it is ever deleted again. When the first page was deleted, the student body was “mourning.” Overheard was such an institution of UC Berkeley culture that the sudden loss of the majority of the group really felt like the burning of sacred texts. I just couldn’t let that happen again.

Immediately after I made the group, members began flooding in by the hundreds. At first, they just posted all their favorite screenshots from the old Overheard, but the group would get back to its former mode of posting shortly. Some students later told me they never even noticed the page had been deleted and remade.

Running Overheard is fun, but it isn’t easy. And since July 2018, I’ve also run Confessions from UC Berkeley, which is an even more fun and challenging experience. As a moderator for these two pages, I have been threatened with a lawsuit, involved with a nationwide intercollegiate meme conspiracy, recognized on the street countless times and interviewed by The New York Times. Basically, a whole lot goes into the process of running the pages, and I have a lot of interesting stories as a result. And those stories are what I want to share with you, the reader, in my columns.

I became a columnist for the same reason I made the Overheard Archive: to record the history of Overheard and Confessions for the future. These pages are mementos of UC Berkeley culture, and even if someday they die (or Facebook becomes irrelevant), I want the UC Berkeley students of the future to be able to look back and be inspired by what the students of the late 2010s did with social media.

Spencer Hill writes the Friday column on being a moderator of Overheard at UC Berkeley and Confession from UC Berkeley. Contact him at [email protected].
LAST UPDATED

FEBRUARY 22, 2020


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