The Rise of Weird Facebook: How the World’s Biggest Social Network Became Cool Again (and Why It Matters)

By
A meme from the group "Not Only Do We Get Wasted On The KrazyTrain,We Stole The Muthafuka."

It’s hard to think of a social network less cool in the popular imagination than Facebook (other than maybe LinkedIn, the Web 2.0 equivalent of BonziBuddy). It’s the one your mom and dad and everyone you went to high school with are on, after all — the place where people who you’ve spent most of your life trying to avoid are ever-present with baby photos, bad videos, and racist opinions. Other than them, who would want to spend time on the internet’s blandest platform?

The answer, it turns out, is thousands of the web’s most innovative weirdos. In the last year or so, dozens of intensely, specifically odd pages have sprung up on the social network, celebrating everything from furniture-themed memes to 1999’s biggest Latin rock hit featuring a member of Matchbox 20, churning out the inscrutable and stupid humor — the dank memes — that used to define places like Tumblr and 4chan. In the process, Facebook has transformed from the site where relatives post screenshots of chain emails to the one where some of the wildest, dumbest, funniest digital culture is being birthed. Welcome to Weird Facebook.

If you’re not currently in Weird Facebook, you may be tangentially aware of it through Barnie Sandlers and Bernie Sanders’s Dank Meme Stash, two meme-humor-heavy pages created in support of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders that have been much-discussed by the mainstream press. But the Bernie Sanders meme community is just one, small, only slightly connected part of a more expansive, and much weirder, segment of Facebook.

In order to talk about Weird Facebook, I’m going to have to ruin it (sorry). To the uninitiated, the humor is often incomprehensibly self-referential and — like any good joke — trying to explain it is the easiest way to suck the fun right out. Take this recent popular image by the page Gangster Popeye, for instance. Why is it funny? It’s a riff on the meme “don’t talk to me or my son ever again” — which itself plays off of the inexplicable appeal of seeing a small thing next to a larger version of that thing. You might not laugh now, or ever, but I promise you it is indeed some very good shit.

Weird Facebook” takes its name from “Weird Twitter,” the loose association of comedians, parodists, writers, and weirdos — mostly refugees from the influential message board Something Awful — whose dry, troll-y jokes have helped shape the culture of Twitter. “Weird” in this case refers both to the tone of the humor and the ways that the site is being used. The “Weird” version of any social network is the one in which its tools are pushed past the bounds of their intended purposes, usually for the purposes of inscrutable, self-referential humor.

Last fall, for instance, fictitious planned events like “Listening to drake and crying” and “Push moshing to korn” suddenly became popular, with thousands of people pledging to meet up at places like the “vacant lot behind the abandoned circle k.” Around the same time, a very public abuse of Facebook’s poll feature called “Was Al Gore Hot?” also took off. A winning faction of 3,713 users would eventually determine that we don’t think Al Gore was hot, but we “get it.”

I think Facebook polls are the best way to communicate online,” said Tim Faust, the creator of “Was Al Gore Hot?” “They’re clunky, inconvenient, badly designed, difficult to use, and infrequently useful. Thus, perfect.”

Most examples of Weird Facebook are slightly less focused on subverting the actual software, and more focused on taking full advantage of it. Facebook now has dozens of pages that just post bizarro riffs on the site’s overcompressed and crudely watermarked detritus. Check Dis Shit Out and Laughapalooza, for instance, operate as deadpan parodies of the corny jokes and T-shirt-ready slogans that once seemed to fill the social network — though their creators would surely never admit it.

THE MARINE AND THE PROTESTOR copyright 2009 Laughapalooza A marine was looking, at a protestor. The protestor was...

Posted by Laughapalooza on Sunday, November 29, 2015

Weird Facebook has been around since at least 2014, when Daily Dot writer Jordan Pedersen identified and described the phenomenon as “a loose conglomeration of pages that post bizarre image macros. Fodder for the guy you bought weed from in high school.” It’s just that it’s become much bigger in the last year or so, and no one can really figure out why.

For their part, the people who run the pages that fall within the greater sphere of Facebook’s avant-garde mostly seem baffled by the sudden popularity of their creations. The most frequently offered explanation as to why the site has been such a successful platform for oddness lately, however, is that Facebook “is where everyone already is.”

On the first day we created the event, we only invited a few close friends to it as a joke and then we left the event up for open invites,” said Alan Pham, the California high-school student who created “Listening to drake and crying.” “The next morning, I saw a couple thousand people put ‘interested’ or ‘going.’” In the end, 25,000 people would end up “attending” the event.

One possibility is that the much-theorized News Feed algorithm changes that have leveled traffic at digital publishers have benefited the small, weird groups that represent a more immediate connection to users’ interests than more generically viral stories and videos. Since Facebook is famously cagey about changes to its algorithm, it’s impossible to prove, but many users I talked to said the site has been noticeably quicker to incorporate changes in their interests since the beginning of last year. Personally, I almost never see the irksome political posts and ugly jokes of people who I’ve friended out of social obligation these days, only getting content from the pages I actively and enthusiastically follow — as selected by Facebook, naturally.

Another is that, for a variety of reasons, Facebook is the social network that’s currently best hitting the balance between freedom and accountability. An important difference between these Facebook pages and other online subcultures is their commitment to inclusivity. Websites like Reddit and Twitter are famous for commitments to free speech that often end up tolerating harassment, Facebook pages like “Useless, Unsuccessful, and/or Unpopular Memes” and “Cool Freaks Wikipedia Club” have what amounts to zero-tolerance policies regarding racist, sexist, and homophobic content.

I think diversity in the meme world is happening more everywhere, but Facebook groups based around the loose family of Korn DMT have really started pushing diversity and addressing it openly,” said an administrator of the meme community “I play KORN to my DMT plants, smoke blunts all day & do sex stuff.” “People are sick of 13-year-old KKK members running the humor game lol.”

Where the anonymity offered by Twitter or 4chan might once have provided creative freedom for weirdos and memers, it now feels like a drawback. According to John Trulli, who runs the popular “Cabbage Cat” meme page, Facebook’s radical transparency makes the dynamic between creators and their audience far more intimate compared to other social networks. “These people see your whole life, and it’s more personal and they become loyal fans,” said Trulli. “On Instagram, people always complain when ‘meme pages’ post selfies, etc., so it’s not a personal experience.”

Recently, Twitter announced that it too would soon be adopting an algorithm to sort posts. If Twitter (or any other social network) really wanted to make their website as fun and creative as Facebook is now, a better feature to ape would be the tools that make it easy to form groups with like-minded people and make jerks accountable for their jerkiness. Until then, users could do a lot worse than friending em all and letting the bots sort em out.

Five Weird Facebook Pages

Useless, Unsuccessful, and/or Unpopular Memes

As the name suggests, this community is dedicated to sharing original but unfunny, overly obscure, or otherwise broken memes. This often takes the form of image macros based on deliberately tortured puns, but really any referential joke that’s more likely to make members groan than laugh is welcome.

Laughapalooza

Wow. All I have to say is ,read this before you make up you're mine...

Posted by Laughapalooza on Monday, February 15, 2016

A straight-faced parody of Grandma friendly humor pages, Laughapalooza takes the shit-pic to its logical conclusion, posting images that look like they were made in Kid Pix and read like bot-generated chain emails about Obama.

フレッドYOLO

As a music genre, Vaporwave has largely disappeared from whatever small territory it held in the public consciousness, but as a video-games and VHS-inspired aesthetic, it’s still alive and well on Facebook. Freddy Yolo, like a number of similar users, shares pictures that seem to come from Vaporwave’s alternate, fever-dream version of 1999, always out of context and without commentary.

Nihilist Memes

While leftist and anti-capitalist politics dominate much of Weird Facebook, (ambiguously sincere) nihilism is an equally popular school of thought. Nihilist Memes is just that, using viral images to celebrate that nothing matters.

I play KORN to my DMT plants, smoke blunts all day & do sex stuff

I don’t know, man, it’s funny, lol.