“Weird Facebook” and “Leftbook,” explained: How absurd meme groups could change Facebook for good

“Weird Facebook” and “Leftbook,” explained: How absurd meme groups could change Facebook for good
Facebook groups Mic/mimagephotography
Facebook groups Mic/mimagephotography
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Let’s face it: Facebook is boring. My feed is a steady stream of mundane, predictable updates from former acquaintances and networks I’m no longer connected to. It’s the same vacation photos I already saw on Instagram and the same news stories that broke on Twitter two days ago.

So I gave it a massive overhaul.

I’ve spent the last few weeks joining the strangest, most interesting and unexpected Facebook groups I could find, and they’ve completely transformed my feed. It’s now filled with delightfully absurd jokes and stories I would have never found elsewhere. (I recently opened my app to find screenshots of people posting “I like to fish” on the Walmart Facebook page.)

Welcome to the Facebook underground — a hidden network of meme communities and affinity groups that may just be the future of the social network as we know it. It feels like I’ve settled in a whole new world — and Facebook is betting that you’ll want to travel there, too.

“Weird Facebook” is here to stay — and it’s getting political

Weird Facebook, kind of like Weird Twitter, is the unofficial term for offbeat, absurdist, ironic Facebook posts and groups, most of which center on shared memes. “If David Lynch and Yung Lean could project their consciousnesses into social media, it’d be Weird Facebook,” Jordan Pedersen wrote for the Daily Dot in 2014.

Then came the rise of Leftbook. This is a relatively new term: It’s what people call the politically progressive side of Facebook. There’s a strong overlap with Weird Facebook. Most, if not all, of the popular groups I’m in would be considered both Weird Facebook and Leftbook.

Almost all of the groups I’ve joined make you answer politically charged questions before you’re admitted. Even if the group doesn’t seem political on its surface, it’s likely part of Leftbook.

Almost all of the groups I’ve joined make you answer politically charged questions before you’re admitted.

For example, here’s the question form for a page called “That’s not Jim, that’s Butch the bigot.” Questions about gender and reverse racism are meant to weed out old-fashioned beliefs.

A questionnaire you need to fill out before you’re admitted to the group
A questionnaire you need to fill out before you’re admitted to the group Alexis Kleinman/Facebook

Wait, who’s Jim? Who’s Butch? And what about Bob?

As you get to know Weird Facebook, you’ll see these names everywhere. “Butch the bigot,” seen above, is a spinoff group from “Please show to Jim ! ! HA ! ! HA ! !,” which is specifically for sharing things “normies” post on Facebook. The group has a language of its own, referring affectionately to people who don’t quite understand social media as Jims and Jimettes.

The group “That’s not Jim, that’s Butch the bigot” is for posts that are less awkward and more racist, and “THIS is not Jim,,it’s Bob” is for posts that are sexually aggressive.

Got that? Jimette is your aunt who’s new to the internet; Butch is your Alex Jones-quoting uncle-in-law; Bob is the creepy dude you graduated from high school with.

A post from Please show to Jim ! ! HA ! ! HA ! !
A post from Please show to Jim ! ! HA ! ! HA ! ! Alexis Kleinman/Facebook
A post from Please show to Jim ! ! HA ! ! HA ! !
A post from Please show to Jim ! ! HA ! ! HA ! ! Alexis Kleinman/Facebook

In many of the groups I’m in, people share and critique posts from elsewhere on social media. Those include “I don’t think that’s science,” “sounds fake but ok,” “it turns out you can just put words in any order you want” and “i feel personally attacked by this relatable content.” Others are related to a specific interest, like “Who? Weekly,” a group for listeners of the podcast of the same name, and “Dogspotting,” a place to post photos of dogs you see around.

The best part? Many of these groups are private.

The joy of a closed Facebook group (meaning you have to be approved before joining) is that it feels like a safe space — kind of like the “finsta” phenomenon on Instagram. People are more likely to be their authentic selves, according to several people I spoke with.

Bonnie Grace, who lives in Australia, is a 31-year-old admin for a Facebook group called “Is This How You Flirt?.” It’s “where people post screenshots of their awkward attempts at online flirting,” she told me. “It has grown from about 1,000 to 10,000 members in about a month. It was fascinating to see it change so much and so quickly.”

A post from the group “Sounds weirdly specific but ok.”
A post from the group “Sounds weirdly specific but ok.” Alexis Kleinman/Facebook

“Groups completely changed my experience of Facebook,” Chad Niel, a 33-year-old from Salt Lake City, Utah, said in a phone call. “I think one of the things is that you kind of interact with strangers in a different way than you interact with strangers normally or even on your own personal Facebook page. It’s more uninhibited. I wouldn’t go around telling random strangers about some anxiety issue that I’m having, but I’ll easily tell a random Facebook group.” Niel is an admin of “That’s not Jim, that’s Butch the bigot.”

“It’s a much broader, more uninhibited way to connect with people,” Niel said. “You connect with people at a realer level. ... I think people get to see a side of you that, unfortunately, you don’t often project to the world.”

Groups are all about authentic connection on an aging network where communication often feels forced and performative. And that’s why Facebook recognizes its potential to keep even more users engaged — and make some money, too.

A post from the group “and then everyone stood up and clapped,” which is for stories that are clearly false.
A post from the group “and then everyone stood up and clapped,” which is for stories that are clearly false. Alexis Kleinman/Facebook

Facebook is investing big in groups

Back in 2014, when Weird Facebook started to thrive, the company wasn’t doing much to publicize its strange but popular new batch of groups. Now, Facebook’s going all-in.

In June, Facebook held its first Communities Summit in Chicago. At that summit, CEO Mark Zuckerberg made it clear to attendees that the site plans to prioritize groups. It introduced new tools for group administrators and moderators and announced that more than half of Facebook’s users are involved in groups. Of course, the company is also figuring out how to monetize the changing network, creating targeted advertising specifically for groups.

Groups are all about authentic connection on an aging network where communication often feels forced and performative.

It may be telling that the simple act of joining a group tends to trigger Facebook’s algorithm to feature that group’s content so prominently. For me, group posts have replaced virtually everything else.

But the Leftbook and Weird Twitter devotees I talked to didn’t seem to notice or be bothered by Facebook’s attempt to take groups mainstream. They’re just in it for the fun — and maybe to make some friends.

A post from “I don’t think that’s science”
A post from “I don’t think that’s science” Alexis Kleinman/Facebook

Groups have changed the way people use Facebook

It’s not uncommon for people to make friends within Facebook groups that lead to offline relationships.

Joy Hayward, a law student in the U.K., met her current boyfriend in a Facebook group. They haven’t met in real life yet, but she’s planning to fly to the U.S. to see him in a few months.

A post from “Please show to Jim ! ! HA ! ! HA ! !”
A post from “Please show to Jim ! ! HA ! ! HA ! !” Alexis Kleinman/Facebook

It’s not all fun and games, though. There can also be serious in-fighting in groups. “While Facebook groups can be a lot of fun, and definitely helped me make a bunch of friends, I’ve seen people have their lives pretty much ruined over political differences — people harassing them, calling their employers to try and get them fired, messaging their family members, etc.,” Hayward said. People have called her names, spread nasty rumors about her and banned her from groups, she said.

Joy Hayward, a law student in the U.K., met her current boyfriend in a Facebook group. They haven’t met in real life yet, but she’s planning to fly to the U.S. to see him in a few months.

Despite the negativity, it’s clear these groups have changed the way people use Facebook, and they don’t plan on going back.

“I don’t really use Facebook for its intended purpose anymore — I don’t post pictures that much or message others,” said Whitney Williams, an 18-year-old from Louisiana. Williams is an admin of “and then everyone stood up and clapped.” She continued, “I really just use it for the groups!”