In Facebook’s Eagle Rock Neighborhood Group: controversy, comedy and community

Active member of the page, Bb Kong poses for a photo in Los Angeles on Friday, April 6, 2018. Nora Fujita-Yuhas/The Occidental

Welcome to the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Group, and hold on to your hats. This Facebook forum, created in May 2013 by Eagle Rock resident Michael Blanchard, has more than 10,000 members and contains everything from memes to restaurant recommendations and news alerts. According to Virginia Escamilla, one of seven moderators, the group serves as a resource and a unifier for the Eagle Rock community.

Virginia Escamilla has lived in Eagle Rock for a majority of her life and is one of six moderators of the Facebook page. Nora Fujita-Yuhas/The Occidental

“[Blanchard] created the group for it to be somewhere for people in the community to come together, be able to help each other out, be resourceful for things,” Escamilla said.

A pinned post at the top of the Facebook page outlines the group’s rules, which include, among other guidelines, a ban on political posts, threats and name-calling. Escamilla said that Blanchard has taken a step back from the group, but she and five other moderators manage group membership and ensure adherence to the rules.

Matt Hemingway — who uses Hans Von Weinershnitzel (sic) as his Facebook moniker — began moderating in 2016. According to Hemingway, objectivity presents one of the biggest challenges of moderating.

Moderator of the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Group Facebook page, Matt Hemingway poses for a photo in Zweet Cafe in Los Angeles on Friday, April 6, 2018. Nora Fujita-Yuhas/The Occidental

“[It’s hard] to separate your personal beliefs from other people’s beliefs and opinions,” Hemingway said. “It’s easy to try to want to be a fascist with it all.”

Hemingway also serves as a secretary for the executive committee of the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council, and said that the council uses the Facebook group to advertise meetings, events and open council seats.

For Bb Kong — an Eagle Rock resident since 1989 who declined to give his real name for this article, but did agree to be interviewed in his home — the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Group serves as a source of amusement. A musician, ex-Marine and prolific internet troll, Kong said that the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Group’s particular audience forces him to deviate from his usual posting style.

“It’s a little bit of a challenge for me. It’s a PG [rated] group and I try to post things that are funny, mostly. The challenge is the PG part because not everything I find humorous is meant for a PG crowd.” Kong said.

Kong added that the group’s purpose doesn’t particularly concern him.

“It functions, I think, pretty much as it was intended. Our local politicians drop in to drop their little nuggets of ‘Ooh, look what I did,'” Kong said. “I don’t really have any complaints about the group or anything or any particular cares. It’s just — there it is.”

According to group member Marguerite Donnee Womack, the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Group can also be used for kindness. Womack highlighted the group’s affection for a special needs member of the group, Sara Hamburg, who often posts “good morning” messages on the page.

“I thought, ‘How awesome, I can actually use Facebook to spread a little kindness,'” Womack said via Facebook direct message. “So I did. I replied to her post and wished her a good day. And you know what? So did more than 20 other people! That’s beautiful.”

Escamilla also noted the group’s compassion towards Hamburg.

“It was so heartwarming because [Hamburg]’s feeling like she’s part of this group, and she is,” Escamilla said. “She’s part of our community.”

Despite the sense of community, the group is not without its controversies, and Escamilla said infighting among group members has escalated given the current political climate. As a result, moderators have tightened access to the group. Those who want to join now have to explain their connection to Eagle Rock and promise to read the guidelines.

Escamilla said that tensions will occasionally flare between self-described “old-time” Eagle Rockers and newer neighborhood arrivals who have differing opinions about the neighborhood’s evolution.

“You have people who have been here for a very long time, and they take this personal propriety over the neighborhood,” Escamilla said. “And the reality is Eagle Rock … it’s a living, breathing thing. It changes.”

Both Escamilla and Hemingway said that they believe the anonymous and detached nature of social media contributes to the nastiness.

“I think if people got out more and met, the conversations would be way more civil and I wouldn’t need to be moderating,” Hemingway said.

Escamilla said that the group also provides opportunities for conflict resolution. In the wake of a controversy concerning an extra charge for credit card use at the Eagle Rock Italian Bakery (a thread which drew over 400 comments), Escamilla said that she and the complainant worked to de-escalate the fiery debate. Although the complainant has not changed her view about the morality of the credit card charge, she was able to see the funny side of the fiasco. Escamilla and the complainant eventually met in person.

“We actually set up a time to meet and we went [to the bakery] and she bought me and my family cannolis,” Escamilla said.

Escamilla said she can understand why moderators like Blanchard have decided to step away from the group.

“You feel like you mother the group. I’ve got two kids already. I don’t need 10,000 of them,” Escamilla said.

But according to Escamilla, the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Group is, on the whole, a positive place that brings Eagle Rockers together.

“[It] all contributes to that feeling of community. Which I love,” Escamilla said. “I think I feel more connected to my community because of this group than I did prior.”