Facebook Is Uncool

In a recent earnings call, Facebook CFO David Ebersman was pleased to announce that Facebook “remained close to fully penetrated among teens in the U.S.” Ebersman was replying to an investor who was concerned that Facebook was becoming “uncool” and losing traction with younger users. This comment seems to highlight the popular notion that Facebook has become the worst social network, the place where your mother will try to friend you, among other unpleasant and artificial social interactions.

"What To Do If Your Child Blocks You on Facebook", from The Independent
“What To Do If Your Child Blocks You on Facebook”, from The Independent

Therefore, it’s surprising that many observers of the Internet are calling Facebook the next big thing for culture, art, and authentic alternative life. Dis Magazine identified Facebook as “the dominant platform” for art and artists, and a piece in n+1 noted that the average Facebook profile has about the same amount of text and literary value as the average novel.

A rather bland term has emerged to describe the interesting parts of Facebook: “Weird Facebook”, a subculture within normal Facebook, a loose network of meme pages, secret groups, and most importantly, personalities and friendships. A bewildered reporter at theDaily Dot described Weird Facebook as an “inscrutable world” that “shouldn’t exist”, where David Lynch and Yung Lean seem to have “projected their consciousnesses onto social media”.

From "Inside the Inscrutable World of Weird Facebook"
From “Inside the Inscrutable World of Weird Facebook”

An insider we talked to described “Weird FB” as a community of people who have “10+ mutual friends in the ‘art world’”, a place where “long text updates are welcome.” The insider said that she knows someone is an observer or participant of Weird Facebook if Bunny Rogers is a mutual friend.

The Facebook profile of Krist Wood, a net artist.  Like many artists and
writers, he has some number of followers, and many of his posts are 
.
The Facebook profile of Krist Wood, a net artist. Like many artists and writers, he has some number of followers, and many of his posts are .
A photo upload (via Instagram) by artist Amalia Ulman, who used Facebook and
Instagram for a months-long performance art piece.
A photo upload (via Instagram) by artist Amalia Ulman, who used Facebook and Instagram for a months-long performance art piece.

Another individual said that becoming part of Weird Facebook was “a natural transition from being a heavy reader”, and that her Facebook friends were “a big comfort”. A survey of Weird Facebook includes ‘art world’ people, writers, 4chan and reddit users, people who are obsessed with rare memes, IRL influencers, social justice ‘warriors’, and seemingly normal people who love shitposting on Facebook. Some people on Weird Facebook use their real name, which is sometimes a Google-able brand, and others have multiple shell accounts, which often get deleted by Facebook’s automated moderation systems.

The public Facebook status of an individual without a public brand, who nevertheless has a large Facebook fan group page.
The public Facebook status of an individual without a public brand, who nevertheless has a large Facebook fan group page.
A long-form personal post by an 'alternate
account'.
A long-form personal post by an ‘alternate account’.

Why is all this weird art and meme stuff happening on Facebook? The Daily Dot noted that “Facebook is not the forum for this kind of shit at all.”

Facebook Was Once Exclusive

In the formative days of Facebook, you could only get a profile if you went to Harvard, a fact that gave the social network a whiff of exclusivity. Facebook was full of “real people”, not spam accounts, and had a clean, whitespace-heavy UI. Friendships on Facebook represented real-life relationships, worth some amount of social capital. These features helped set Facebook apart from its main competitor, MySpace.

The Facebook profile of a software engineer at
Facebook.
The Facebook profile of a software engineer at Facebook.

Despite Facebook’s aggressive demographic and geographic expansion, the website has always tried to ensure that Facebook accounts correspond to real people, and that Facebook friendships correspond to real frienships. In practice, this means that Facebook suspends the accounts of transgender individuals, and prevents people from requesting friendship with people they don’t know from real life. Facebook also does not allow you to create a profile for your pet.

Why are artists and weirdos talking on Facebook, instead of some cooler, alternative site on the Internet with less restrictions? Like Ello, for example? Subcultures have always tried to build their own institutions, often around custom websites, businesses, or publications. In many ways, founding an alternative institutions is the Gen X and Millenial dream. So why are the greatest and weirdest minds of our generation having the conversations that matter most in the bleak terminal morass that is Facebook?

"Corporate Aesthetics: Environment and Object", one of many Facebook groups
devoted to sharing content related to a very granular aesthetic or
interest.
“Corporate Aesthetics: Environment and Object”, one of many Facebook groups devoted to sharing content related to a very granular aesthetic or interest.
"inb4", one of many selfie/look/erotica Facebook groups, where people post
images of themselves, sometimes in ways that are against Facebook's content
policies.  The members of the group have to trust each other not to report
content, or the group will be deleted.  The following people administrate the group: Elizabeth Mputu, Seashell Coker, Parker Bright, Jack Collier
Maya Bayhan.
“inb4”, one of many selfie/look/erotica Facebook groups, where people post images of themselves, sometimes in ways that are against Facebook’s content policies. The members of the group have to trust each other not to report content, or the group will be deleted. The following people administrate the group: Elizabeth Mputu, Seashell Coker, Parker Bright, Jack Collier Maya Bayhan.

The Internet Subculture Diaspora

The past year has been rough for Internet subcultures. Alt Lit finally fragmented due to a rape scandal, Net Art continued its downward slide into the corporate art world, Hipster Runoff quietly died (for real this time), vaporwave stalled, Gamergate happened, Reddit suffered a series of embarassing scandals, and the founder of 4chan threw in the towel.

"This Literary Community", one of several groups to form after the reported
"death" of Alt Lit in October 2014.
“This Literary Community”, one of several groups to form after the reported “death” of Alt Lit in October 2014.

All of these subcultures are (or were) rooted in specific websites and brands: popserial.net, dump.fm, hipsterunoff, ello.co, rhizome.org, /b, Macintosh Plus, Feminist Frequency, Yung Lean. They failed, sometimes due to the “observation effect”, sometimes due to bad behavior by the part of their founders, or sometimes due to their ability to maintain interest and revenue. They only matter to a small, incestuous groups of people, except when they “fuck up”. The Millenial failure to create scalable alternative institutions has meant that many younger people are in retreat, along with the weird friends they made elsewhere on the Internet.

Often, it seems that all that remains of old subcultures like Alt Lit, LiveJournal, or Neopets are the Facebook friendships. These are the online relationships that people loved enough to bring into the sphere of Facebook, the realm of real life.

Facebook, Real Life, and “Normies”

For many, Facebook has become the social network where “real life” happens. It’s where people announce their new achievements, relationships, marriages, and children. But what if you don’t have any of these things? What if you don’t have a “real life”?

Image macros from the alternative meme Facebook group, "People that Aumm
sometimes and are also... ooohhhh.....
Image macros from the alternative meme Facebook group, “People that Aumm sometimes and are also… ooohhhh…..

“I guess I got into ‘weird facebook’ after I failed out of college and was living with my parents,” said Lucas, the owner of a page dedicated to music memes. “No one called it [weird facebook] at the time obviously, I had no idea what I was doing. I added some weird musicians and writers that I was into. Eventually I added so many of these people that facebook started suggesting more of them, and I’d get a bunch of requests.”

The suggested friends of a Weird Facebook user.
The suggested friends of a Weird Facebook user.

“This was like, four years ago? Now I have hundreds of mutual friends with people who I’ve never met, and never will meet. My mom sometimes asks me about weird things that she sees ‘on my facebook’. Normally it’s just stuff that I’ve liked, but it shows up in her newsfeed. I guess everything I do shows up there because she has so few friends.”



Most people who aren’t normies end up on Weird Facebook. After all, from the perspective of a normie, most kinds of artist, hipster, 4chan user, programmer, or blogger seem pretty Weird. Why would you want to share that stuff online?

The Scalability of Weird Facebook

There’s a tension between the “normal” usage of Facebook and the weird habits of the alternative users, who want to use Facebook like they used tumblr or their personal blog. There’s also a tension between the sophisticated ‘culture world’ users of facebook and those just want to do weird things on Facebook for the hell of it, because Facebook provides an excellent platform for shitposting.

Photography and statuses by Anthony F Liseno.  Liseno unintentionally became
a part of Weird Facebook thanks to the company's friend suggestion algorithm,
which runs on
over 50 servers with 144 Gigabytes of memory
each.
Photography and statuses by Anthony F Liseno. Liseno unintentionally became a part of Weird Facebook thanks to the company’s friend suggestion algorithm, which runs on over 50 servers with 144 Gigabytes of memory each.

It’s hard to point at any one thing that can represent Weird Facebook. There’s no one page or person that defines weird facebook, and this is part of what makes weird facebook robust. Weird Facebook is an emergent property of a certain network of people, not an aesthetic that someone came up with to push their own artistic agenda. The networked nature of Weird Facebook is what will allow it to scale, and allow it to survive scandal or changing fashions. Weird Facebooks rests upon millions of man-years of engineering, creating a sort of vivid virtual reality, a reality that’s hard to match anywhere else on the Internet.