Cafemom.com: A Mother's Support Site or a Troll Fest?
What is Cafemom?
Created on November 15, 2006, Cafemom.com is a social network website geared towards supporting and informing mothers and mothers to be. Cafemom was created by two men, Michael Sanchez and Andrew Shue. The site is comprised of groups of forums made by the site and the members on every subject under the sun. Topics that range from mothering topics such as pregnancy, breastfeeding, and parenting kids of a certain age to topics on politics, popular trends, relationships, and groups geared towards drama. The range is vast.
There were also other elements to the site other than forums such as chat rooms and instant messenger, a question and answer area, articles from The Stir and associated sites, games, the ability to customize the profiles in detail, and much more.
Today, it is a far cry from its humble beginnings. In the following article, I will be covering what problems have arisen, my personal experience with the site, and what they can do to get it back to being a fun and educational place for moms!
My Experience on Cafemom
Why I Joined and Why I Left
I joined January 27, 2009, during a time when my husband was in the last months of his deployment in Iraq, my first child had recently been diagnosed with Autism, I was living with my in-laws to save money for the move out of state when my husband returned, and also was in the middle of getting my degree. I was feeling very isolated and lonely even though family surrounded me. Due to being legally blind, I had a hard time being very independent where I was located at the time. So I had to look to the internet and social media for social interaction outside the family.
I Googled mom sites, and there were not too many out there that were focused on mom interactions in forum or chat groups and the ones that were available were not aesthetically pleasing and were very bare bones. I finally came across Cafemom.com and joined it.
When you first join, you are automatically added to Cafemom owned groups that are managed by admins of the site, such as the forum Newcomers and based on what you filled out when signing up, groups that you fall into such as the group Pregnancy if you wrote you were pregnant. Navigating the site was extremely easy at that time. Things were clearly identified by tabs such as Games, Q&A, etc. So I looked around and got the feel for the site and finally started looking at member owned groups. My interest at the time was Ft. Hood and Texas because we were going to be stationed down there (I am/was in Washington state at the time). I also joined a Pagan and divination group since I was pagan and was at the beginning of my journey with that at the time. I joined a debate group because I love debating.
My initial experience with the first few groups wasn't too bad. The pagan and divination groups were extremely nice and peaceful and kept the topics appropriate for the group. The debate group was what you would expect and overall was pretty respectful. I interacted, or tried to, in the Texas groups since I was moving there and I soon realized the attitudes of the moms in there were a bit sketchy. I asked very basic questions about a new military wife who will be moving to the area would ask and most answered appropriately. But this was where I got my first experience of trolling and fight instigators. Some of the women would, not knowing anything about me, call me stupid for asking the questions, try to antagonize an argument over something that there was no need to have one over, and just flat out trolling. I was only on the site at that time for maybe two weeks before I left it alone because of the nasty behavior of these women. I wasn't familiar how some of the member groups were run at the time and thought it was something specific to me, but later I found out it wasn't.
I returned to the site almost a full year later, after we had moved and were settled in our new place and creating social bonds with the other wives. I chose not to return to the group that left a bad taste in my mouth and looked for a unique group to join. Now, I didn't know they were designated this until much later, by the members of the site, but the following groups I joined are considered "bitch" groups. When I joined the group Dollies, I assumed it was a place for women to complain and rant about their everyday life issues. Which they did, but the group was uncensored so you may see a complaining post one minute and then a post where the girls are just attacking each other viciously the next. I, having had my previous experience well in mind, was prepared for this behavior so it did not affect me nearly as much as it had. It allowed me to see the under currents of the relationships between the women of the site and how it carried over from group to group. Being new I was obviously very unaware of this until much later. I stayed in the group for a bit but left after a few weeks.
During my time in Dollies though, I found a group called Disturbed Innocence which is still, barely, running today. Many groups then have died years ago. This was probably the most well-rounded group at the time I had joined that gave me what I was looking for such as fun games and experiences, along with interesting topics to discuss, and also some of the drama that when not focused on me is extremely entertaining at that age. To be very transparent with the readers, this is where I found my way of fighting back and later, becoming a bit of a troll myself within these "bitch" groups. I spent hours in this forum talking, debating, fighting with these girls and reading all sort of interesting topics. For example, some of the topics covered sex, relationships, travel, cooking, weight loss, and drama around the Cafemom. Not to mention any hot topic that was in the news. I learned the in's and out's of how Cafemom run in this group along with how to create, run, and admin a group. I was an admin for them on several occasions over the years. I also ended meeting up, who is now my long time real life best friend who I actually do spend time with! We didn't get along at first, but I can say, her friendship is worth all the bad stuff that this site has had on it.
During this time I created a group called Alternative Moms where women, like me, who had tattoos, piercings, wore funky clothes, maybe were gay, or lived a crunchy lifestyle could join and have conversations on alternative lifestyles. It also still exists off and on. It allowed me to see how stressful managing a forum can be! Having to implement rules to members and admins, making sure admins are not abusing their powers by say deleting someone's post just for giggles, and keeping the group active with interesting posts people want to participate with. During that time, being a top group was extremely important in general because it allowed the top groups to be viewed by more people, hence more people joining and participating. It was very competitive and of course, some took it to the level of what we called "cheating". Such as refreshing the page for more views which gave the group more points. This is rarely the case nowadays. It really ate up a lot of time for me and others who got dragged into that competitive spirit and group drama. Too many of our detriment in our real lives.
My First Real Hiatus
Now, I had been active for about three years or so, constantly on the site every day until I moved back to Washington where my internet was limited. I was getting tired of the catty drama on the site because it became repetitive and for some people, it affected real life relationships where it should never have gone. I wasn't involved with this, just observed. There were a lot of changes going on in my life that was a priority way above playing on the site, so a combination of things had me leave the site for about a year.
When I came back to the site, some of the biggest trolls had left or been barely active, so on the plus side, it was more peaceful to interact with people on the site regardless of what group you were in. I also had noticed that the chat and messenger option had been removed, along with an influx of advertisements that made being on the site almost impossible without Adblock. The advertisements would pop out and block the screen, or if it was a video, would auto play. During this time, many members had left because they had reformatted the site so much that the individuality such as journals and Q&A were either not easily accessed or were completely removed. The customer service team that before the hiatus, would be very active in trying to help with technical and non-technical issues were no longer as helpful. This has only got worse as the years have gone on.
After coming back, I wasn't as active as I had been due to working and a lot of other real life activities going on, but I did interact fairly regularly when I was bored. Though some of the biggest trolls had left the site, the trolling had changed from just saying mean things and sharing secrets, to people actively trying to ruin peoples real lives by calling their work places, harassing husbands, contacting family members, etc. It went from trolling to straight up cyber stalking and harassment. It is one thing to mindfully joining in a conversation where being mean is expected and quite another when a person takes the drama so seriously, they drag it to affect and hurt the person in real life. It became very scary. Sadly, this still continues today.
I have left and come back a few times to the site with short breaks for various reasons, but the site, which was once a well-balanced place for moms to let their hair down and have some fun, to a place that is destructive, hateful, and revolves around cyber bullying to stalking. Those in charge, doing little to nothing to fix it.
Current Problems with the Site
The following will be covering the persistent and current issues Cafemom has that makes participating on this site very difficult if not impossible.
They lack backup servers. Years ago during a bad winter storm on New York where they are based, it knocked out their servers for many weeks so the site was down the entire time. Most successful online social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, etc. have backup servers in different places in the United States in case one falls. They lost a large group of women during that point.
The site randomly crashes. For some, it is more, and if they use mobile it increases. Just recently the site was down for most of a day and when we returned, the search bar wasn't working and neither was the spell check option. This may be minor issues, but it now has been days and the issues are still there.
Most people now use mobile to be on Cafemom so the tech support focuses mainly on them and can take days even to respond to an issue.
Cafemom is a company who has an abundance of advertisers on their site. That is how they get paid of course. That in its self is not an issue. What is an issue, and I addressed this earlier in the article, is that a couple of years ago they added more advertisements that unless you had Adblock they would be invasive and would create issues in interacting with the site. This has minimally got better over time, but it persists for many.
Two of the biggest complaints I have seen from other members is when Cafemom removed their messenger, Meebo, and the chat rooms that were an option in each group for real-time interaction. Meebo was a company they parted ways with but they never replaced it even though there were many requests by many members to do so. The assumption why they haven't replaced it and the chat rooms are because it took away from the activity of the forums which is where the real activity on the site is counted.
Another thing that was popular and was removed was the Games tab which had a number of simple available free games to play. It has gone the way of the chat rooms and messaging.
Q&A and Journals are technically still available but is no longer promoted to be used by the site. They used to have an easy access tab on the main page to access them. Now you have to go through your account settings to access them or use a widget.
At one point, Cafemom would create groups specifically to get feedback on possible changes or what we would like to see change. This has not been done in many years. When they have come out with changes there either so minimal no one notices and are of a technical nature or they are globally disliked. The only way to really give Cafemom feedback is to go to their customer service and tell them without any actual feedback in return.
As I addressed in the previous section, trolling is a huge problem on this site. It has bled out of the groups trolling is acceptable to even the most benign groups such as for example, an Autism support group. The customer service has almost completely left any issue regarding trolling to be dealt with by the members and usually give generic responses that are copy pasted as a response.
One of the reasons this is is that they almost never enforce their Terms of Service which has not been updated since June 29, 2012, and the Community Guidelines that have not been updated since September 21, 2011, are extremely in need of revision and enforcement.
. Their TOS is the following:
- is threatening, defamatory, abusive, obscene, pornographic, or any material that would give rise to any civil or criminal liability under applicable law;
- could infringe any copyright, trademark, publicity or privacy right or any other intellectual property right of any person or entity;
- containing slurs, hate speech or which attack an individual or group on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sexual preferences;
- contains an email address, telephone number, street address, last name, or any that identifies a user;
- that constitute spam (sending the same message multiple times or to multiple people will be treated as spam);
- that is commercial in nature; and
- is, or could be construed as, illegal or construed as being a part of an illegal activity.
The Community Guidelines are the following:
- Be respectful of others.
- Don't personally insult or attack other members.
- Slurs, stereotyping, and hate speech are not tolerated.
- Controversial topics and debates are encouraged. Be prepared for others to agree AND disagree with you and your ideas.
- Use the Privacy and Security settings as you see fit to control the privacy and security of your CafeMom experience.
- Don't ask other members for help in the form of money, gifts, or donations.
- Advertising and promotions are only allowed in Journal posts and in groups that allow advertising.
- Cursing is not allowed in public areas.
- Nudity, abortion pictures, and depictions of violence are not permitted on CafeMom.
- Don't share your personal information or anyone else's information with someone unless you're absolutely certain it is safe to share with that person. That includes anything another member shared with you in private.
- Do not create multiple accounts. If you need a second account to run your group, please contact the CafeMom Team.
- Help us keep CafeMom orderly by reporting any problems you see on the site including posts that break these rules and anyone you suspect doesn't belong on CafeMom.
- Don't do anything criminal or illegal on CafeMom or encourage anyone else to do so.
- If you want to discuss CafeMom policies, please Contact Us directly.
I highlighted the points that are either not enforced at all, or rarely enforced. See the problem? The majority of these rules and guidelines have been pushed onto the members to fix rather than Cafemom customer service, such as removing bad content that in the rules they say are not allowed. It is rare that any of these are ever enforced.
Customer Service Neglect
Sadly, their customer service is negligible at best. Other than technical issues, which they are generally alright at helping with most the time, just not generally in a timely manner, if there is a personal issue on Cafemom, they will, in essence, tell you they can't do anything about it or to deal with it yourself. Particularly when it comes to harassment and trolling.
Above I highlighted many points that the customer service do not address anymore or very little. You have people using slurs regularly, posting graphic and horrific imagery, threats towards peoples family, outing personal information such as real names and contact information, and so on. With very little done about it. At one point, they would be on the ball in situations like these and even close down groups that persisted in continuing the behavior.
In addition, they have "female" profiles that are admins for the site but are in fact male. Some women on here would never share such personal information if they knew there were men on this site, which it isn't supposed to. However, being that the owners are men as well, this isn't a big reach. Not to mention most of the Cafe (fill in a generic name) admins are also no longer active on the site. So most members, particularly new ones, are swimming in the deep end with no floating device.
When you request an email for management that goes above the basic customer service on Cafemom, they refuse to give it, nor a phone number to contact. There are some situations where it is necessary to talk to the higher ups but Cafemom refuses to help in aiding the requester in getting in touch with them other a mailing address.
There was a recent event where a member attempted to contact Cafemom and asked if they could do anything about threats towards them that were towards their real life, that was on the level of litigation. They said they can't do anything even with information supporting the member even though in their guidelines it addresses that very issue where they don't allow threats like that on the site. Nothing was done.
Loss of Interest
The site years ago stated that they have 91 million unique profiles on their site a month. This is false. Currently, the most popular group on Cafemom only has an estimated 25,000 members in the group. Many "unique" visitors are bots and profiles that are from a single user either by creating them for a fake profile or forgetting their original information and a new one was created. I am unsure how they calculated that amount of unique profiles, That would end up being about 72% of the adult female population. Unlikely. Most people who join don't stay more than a few days or a few months, then they lose interest. Many of the veterans of the site have moved on as well. Most member groups are dead, even the top twenty groups. It is a struggle to keep activity going or have original topics to discuss after almost a decade of the site is up with few changes in the past five years or so.
Can It Be Fixed?
These would be pretty simple fixes overall. They need to add multiple backs up servers in case of the server going down in the future. They need to hire technicians that specifically are trained to work on mobile AND online modes so when a global issue happens, it is dealt with quickly like other social media platforms. Adjust advertisements from being intrusive. Pretty easy fixes overall.
Terms of Service
This and the Community Guidelines need a huge overhaul. Most sites update their TOS and alike at least every couple years, but the length of time that has gone by has allowed for these rules to be ignored and no longer enforced. The rules as a baseline have no issue but they also need to be more specific because there is such a wide gray area that people get around the rules without being punished or receiving consequences. Enforcement needs to be increased tenfold because they are almost completely lacking in this area.
Bringing Back the Fun Aspects of the Site
Finding a new way of implementing chat or instant messaging would increase activity on the site as well and is one of the most missed elements that could bring back people who stopped using the site shortly after many elements were removed. In addition, actually getting feedback from the members in a conversational way, where multiple people can participate, absolutely needs to come back. Right now Cafemom is only focused on their investors and advertisers. They no longer care about what the members who make the site so successfully.
Although this has been touched on many times in this article, customer service is supposed to be enforcing the rules and are meant to be there to help when they are needed. They not only need to have around the clock people to help out (they don't and weekends rarely are available), they also need to have a quicker more personable interaction with the members of the site when they request help. Again, I reference Twitter and Facebook have technicians who come back generally within an hour around the clock. Of course, they are bigger platforms but based on Cafemom's numbers of active members, there is no reason why they couldn't increase their customer service capabilities. They certainly can afford it based on their stocks. They have to be able to be able to not just stand on their copy paste responses to issues, and really have the dialogue on an individual basis to get less technical issues addressed in a smoother way.
Cafemom started off as a site where moms could come and interact with other mothers for support and fun interactions. It is now a cesspit of trolls, harassment, and lacks the site's customer service to police the rules they claim to enforce.
Do I feel they can come back from their dropping numbers of active members? Absolutely. But they need to change a lot of the things that are clearly not working, listed above. I certainly have added at times to the havoc on the site and the drama, as many of the members have. However, knowing first hand how much they are lacking in trying to stop it, I have come to a place where me and many other moms are just tired of not being able to feel safe even in the most benign groups to share our feelings and ask for honest help, which the site was supposed to be based on.
There have been a few petitions attempted over the years for change, but Cafemom never listened, so do I have hope that things will change? I feel it is very unlikely. But there is always a possibility they can turn it around.
This article was written from the perspective of a long time member. Information such as the numbers can be easily Googled or found on the site itself, for reference.
A Poll for the Mom's of the Site
Do you feel that Cafemom needs an overhaul or do you think it is past the point of no return?
© 2017 Tara Cochran