Late last month, the archetypal “Weird Facebook” page Cursed Images interrupted its regular fare of unsettling images like a baby doll ripping a giant bong or purple dish soap pouring onto a waffle with an unusual announcement.
“We’re gonna start monetizing our page soon,” it read. “Which means you’re gonna start seeing ads on our page every once in awhile. I figured I’d let you all know now so we can get all the BS out of the way first.”
The announcement quickly picked up 500 angry reacts and hundreds of enraged comments. “How about you not sell out,” wrote one commenter. Another indicated that he had “unliked you bastards.” A few comments were supportive, but the overall message was one of betrayal. “This text is the most cursed image of all,” one commenter quipped below the note.
Soon, Cursed Images itself waded into the fracas — though its replies now seemed to be written by a different moderator who was blaming the first for the controversial announcement. Somebody named Corey, the page now explained, “is just mad i make money off [t-shirts] so he’s doing ads to spite me,” and “for the record i was 100% against this don’t kill me [sic].”
Weird Facebook is a nebulous collection of popular pages known for obscure memes and dreamy, anime-inflected vaporwave aesthetic. Breakout stars include pages with names like “Ｒｅｄｅｍｐｔｏｒｉｓ釁,” “The Content Zone” and “I play KORN to my DMT plants, smoke blunts all day & do sex stuff.” Early last year, New York Magazine called Weird Facebook a place “where some of the wildest, dumbest, funniest digital culture is being birthed.” Lately, though, Weird Facebook has been characterized by something more familiar: monetization.
Iconic pages like Internet by night, which has attracted 268,000 followers with a feed of dark, surreal images, now sell T-shirts and sweaters emblazoned with vaporwave-style graphics in a Facebook-hosted shop. Metalhead Memes has started hawking links to sites that sell mugs and parody band shirts to its 563,000 followers. G a l l e r y 注視, a meme page with 314,000 followers, peddles an apparel store, and cult favorite Ｒｅｃｙｃｌｅ Ｂｉｎ ごみ箱, with 73,000 followers, posts links to glitchy, 90s-style posters that retail for $35.
The rise of those types of posts give the sense that Weird Facebook has entered a liminal period, as some of its highest-profile figures are now trying to cash in on a scene that was in recent memory still little-known and subversive. Mysterious pages that used to provide the dankest memes available now direct visitors to exit through the gift shop — and fans aren’t always pleased.
Not every decision to monetize is that fractious. A moderator of Ｒｅｃｙｃｌｅ Ｂｉｎ ごみ箱, which posts a mixture of memes and aesthetic images, said the page’s moderation team had started monetizing it and a few related pages earlier this year.
“We just do it for fun, but it's also another market niche,” the mod said.
A few followers have complained about the ads, the mod explained, and to explain the ones who had, he took a dig at the page’s key demographic: “Our target are men between 18 and 24 years and they can be very stupid sometimes.”
It is jarring to see ads on Weird Facebook. The scene emerged as a celebration of some of the darkest, strangest material on the web — a mix that could be at turns surreal, offputting and unfriendly, but never commercial.
But not everyone is happy with the changing culture. The move toward monetization “does feel empty,” said the mod of T r a s h b i n, who several years ago tried to collaborate with a clothing designer to sell some of his motifs, but hasn’t repeated the experiment after it failed to attract much attention. “What started as ‘original’ now is ‘trendy,’” he said.
Others in the scene maintain a live-and-let-live attitude toward monetization. The moderator of フレッドYOLO, a wildly popular Weird Facebook page that does not run ads or sell merchandise, said that he was “personally all 4 it,” though he himself doesn’t “really care 2 much about the profit side of things.”
The mods I spoke to made it sound like the profits are small. The mod of Ｒｅｃｙｃｌｅ Ｂｉｎ ごみ箱, for instance, said that monetizing the page makes less than $50 a month. And a mod of G a l l e r y 注視, which has hundreds of thousands of followers, said that he makes as little as $20 each time he posts an apparel promotion. “It helps me buy food for my 6 cats,” the mod said.
But judging by the fight on Cursed Images’ status, bringing those types of profits to Weird Facebook could be an uphill battle. Cursed Images didn’t respond to a request for comment, but it appears that the outcry may have successfully deterred its owners, at least for now. In the month since the announcement, no ads have appeared on the page.
“You don’t need money to run a fucking Facebook page,” wrote one angry follower. “Don’t get me wrong, I get that you wanna make some money but don't act like it's needed for this page to keep existing.”
When Cursed Images replied this time, it seemed as though the pro-monetization mod had wrestled back control of the account.
“Capitalism bitch,” it shot back.