Theater group stages Facebook fight

A grammar mistake sparked a heated discussion on NYUAD’s Room of Requirement Facebook page last Tuesday, Nov. 18. The thread, which included ...

Nov 23, 2013

A grammar mistake sparked a heated discussion on NYUAD’s Room of Requirement Facebook page last Tuesday, Nov. 18.
The thread, which included accusations of racial stereotyping and wealth entitlement, appeared to be another example of what is known among NYU Abu Dhabi students as a Facebook fight. However, this fight was entirely staged and was deleted three days after the original post.
Playtime, a theater SIG led by sophomore Juliana Bello, artificially created the Facebook fight as a theatrical demonstration that was open to the student community. Playtime gathered in Common Ground, where the Facebook page was projected onto a large screen. Sophomore Jad Mahmoud's post deliberately contained the mistake: “if your not there your square.” Although only about 30 students were in Common Ground, up to 640 students — the number of members in the Facebook group — could have watched the show from their laptop screens.
Ignited by Playtime members, the apparently innocuous grammar mistake quickly turned into a fight centered on cultural misunderstanding.
For Bello, Facebook has always had a theatrical slant.
"Any Room of Requirement fight is a theater piece," said Bello. "It's people presenting themselves in a contrived way ... they can backspace if they think they said the wrong thing."
While the Facebook fight was going on, Playtime members also performed a dramatic reading of an earlier fight about the all-vegetarian lunch day, which provoked much controversy and exceeded 100 comments.
Freshman Samuel Ball participated in the Facebook fight, not knowing it was a staged demonstration. Ball was offended by comments that discouraged students from criticizing university life.
"I saw a comment that basically just hit a nerve with me … [it said] sit down and shut up and don't criticize because you're being paid, you're getting this for free," said Ball.
After finding out that the fight was staged by Playtime, Ball agreed that Facebook contains a theatrical element. However, Ball did not wish to retract any of the comments that he made, because he said that they were honest opinions responding to real problems. He recognized that Playtime members chose topics aimed to provoke fellow students.
"It proves that just because it starts as a joke, it doesn't end like that," said Ball. "Even if you're joking, you're always saying something that's true — you can't back away from what you said."
Although Ball was not offended by the demonstration, other students questioned it. On the night of Friday, Nov. 22, the entire thread was deleted off Facebook. Mahmoud and the three administrators of NYUAD's Room of Requirement all claimed that they did not delete the thread.
Senior Joshua Shirley was unsure if he can support Playtime's demonstration. For Shirley, the demonstration could have hurt the feelings of students who did not know it was staged, especially students studying abroad who are less in touch with the Abu Dhabi community.
"The post, to me, as a prank, though it had a great purpose in mind — there are other, less damaging or potentially damaging, ways to go about that," said Shirley.
Shirley was also critical of this use of the Facebook page. He said that the group’s purpose is to provide help and resources to students. Earlier that day, Shirley posted on NYUAD's Room of Requirement about proper use of the page, not knowing that Playtime's demonstration would take place that night.
Bello did not think that Playtime needed to apologize for the demonstration.
"I never took the fights that seriously to begin with," said Bello. "People’s responses seemed so staged to me that I figured that luring them into a fight would not be as offensive to them as others proposed it could be."
Shirley said that the NYUAD community still faces the challenge of creating a more constructive forum for debate than Facebook.
"It's hard to say, while the [Facebook] groups exist, whether the incentives to create a new platform will be enough," said Shirley. "I would encourage [administrators] to delete the groups as soon as possible, if not now."
As a theater piece however, Shirley appreciated Playtime's work and said that they could not have anticipated its consequences.
Bello is open to pursuing similar projects in the future.
"Facebook is a performance medium. People are already on it … and it's so much easier to act on Facebook,” said Bello.
Joey Bui  is news editor. Email her at
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