This article originally appeared on VICE India.
There was a time, back in 2016-2017, when I, along with almost 2 billion people, used Facebook excessively. I constantly uploaded photos doing fun things and thrived on those Facebook ‘likes’. The dopamine rush of being validated online was a guarantee I’d never leave it, until when, one day, my parents (and my relatives, and watchful uncles and aunties) friend-ed me too. That’s when I decided I had had enough of Facebook and switched platforms, never to return.
Now, four years down the line, I'm back on the platform rather sheepishly—looking for the same chemical rush.
Stuck inside my apartment in a godforsaken pandemic, with barely any human interaction, I decided it’s finally time for me to stop human-ing for a bit. I decided to be an ant instead and ended up joining one of the most incredible Facebook groups in existence.
‘A group where we all pretend to be ants in an ant colony’ is a Facebook group of more than 1.8 million users where, as the name suggests, everyone pretends to be an ant in a colony and serve a figurative Queen. The group’s description reads: “In this group we are ants. We worship The Queen and do ant stuff.” And honestly, that is it.
This group is a closed group, as every ant colony should be, but the process to join it is relatively easy. The application asks questions like whether you’ve seen the movie A Bug’s Life, but unlike me—who’d immediately reject your application if you deny watching the movie—the 'antmins' are very gracious and let all ant-people in, regardless of the answer. The rules of the group are simple— don’t bully or harass anyone, don’t post sexually explicit or violent content, call people by their ant names and always capitalise the first letters of the words ‘The Queen’.
The group, at first glance, appears ludicrous—what do ants even do anyway except walk around all day looking for our leftovers and dead bugs? But on a closer look, the colony has so much going on. From helping fellow ants in carrying food across the floor to saving an occasional dying ant, to even rescuing The Queen from periodic attacks from bigger bugs, the colony remains a busy place. In this virtual anthill, an ant posts a photo of food, and hundreds of other ants rush to “CHOMP” or “LIFT” it. The colony has one goal, which is serving The Queen—but the ants are cooperative and supportive towards each other too. The ‘antmins’ keep things in the colony interesting and even regularly organise events such as ant ball tryouts.
I, a dutiful ant-person, also wanted to make my own contribution to the colony by guiding my fellow ants to some delicious Indian food. After all, if there’s anything Indians do right, it is the mithai (desi dessert)—and I wanted to share my treat with my fellow ant-men . But an announcement on the group reads that due to their immense popularity, they currently have over 100k+ posts pending—getting posts approved takes months as the admins go through them in order. Which, while disappointing, makes complete sense since the ants are all about the hustle and the discipline.
The group, while seeming to be ridiculous, is an overwhelmingly welcoming space. The pandemic itself is so surreal and dystopian that the absurdities of roleplaying online as insects, in fact, bring back normalcy. Once you’ve lived through a disease that paralyses human mobility globally, pretending to be an ant online pales in comparison.
Moreover, the Facebook group is a place to socialise—if not as humans, at least as ants. The lockdown has isolated us both, physically and emotionally, and has been hard on us mentally. Video chats might be keeping us connected, but ‘Zoom fatigue’ is setting in as well—making even interactions with loved ones all the more tiring. This colony here then comes to the rescue, as you get to socialise and make ant-friends with hardly any efforts—your sole purpose here is to be ants that lift and lick. It helps that ants are extremely strong and barely judgemental—both things that can do wonders for your mental health. Which is why, according to NBC, the group grew from 100,000 members to over 1.8 million in just a span of a few weeks.
Plus, the group serves as a great escape from reality too. Surrounded by shouts of “HELP” and “MARCH” and “QUEEN”, it’s easy to forget about the real disasters that surround us all. The colony also calls itself a human politics-free colony, one that provides a safe space to take shelter from the bleak realities of life—including coronavirus. Their group guidelines even go a step further to read: “We’re all just here to have fun, please keep human politics and human religion out of the group. At this time, we are removing all posts and comments regarding Covid-19.”
However, to no one’s surprise, the ant colony isn’t the only pretend group that exists on Facebook. If roleplaying as an insect isn’t your idea of fun, there are several other things you could roleplay as. There’s a group in which you can pretend to be Karen who wants to talk to the manager, or pretend to be a cow, or even pretend to be a middle-aged dad. Regardless of what you choose to pretend to be for the weekend, it’s fun to lose yourself and be someone—or some_thing_—else for a little while, even if it is on a Facebook group with millions of others.
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