THE WEIRDER WEB
The week of February 22, 2015
An illustration of Facebook's thumb logo stabbing a laptop

I accidentally killed my favorite thing on the Internet

By Aaron Sankin

For the life of me, I cannot remember how I first discovered Like if You’re a Teen. Maybe it was through a post shared by one of my friends on Facebook. Maybe it was via a link sent by one of my coworkers in the Daily Dot’s internal chatroom. Maybe someone I follow on Twitter pointed a link in my direction.

But I can see with crystal clarity the moment I killed it.

Social media has a way of decontextualizing how we discover things by stripping the layer of ownership between the platform we use for discovery and the content itself. As researchers at Pew discovered, people don’t remember that they read a story written by BuzzFeed or the Los Angeles Times; they’ll just remember that they saw something “on Facebook.” The phrasing makes Facebook seem active—like a living, breathing force creating #content and then feeding it to us on a silver platter.

In a sense, Like if You’re a Teen seemed like something that bubbled up from the deranged id of Facebook itself: a place where the swirling cacophony of more than a billion active users created something that both approximated the lowest-common denominator and deliciously subverted it. It posted a stream of weird, nonsensical meme images smashed together from Internet detritus executed like a less self-conscious version of Adult Swim’s Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! drawing from the world of Facebook rather than late-night public-access TV.

If it sounds like I’m puffing this thing up with pretentious bullshit, that’s because I am. But I’m only doing it out of love. Like if You’re a Teen was great. It was a weird little corner of the Web that I somehow stumbled into, got profoundly creeped out by, and then became completely obsessed with. It was an odd little Facebook page with about 250 likes, and it was easily one of my favorite things on the Internet.

The images are gone, sucked so far down Facebook’s memory hole that not even the Internet Archive’s trusty Wayback Machine, which usually does an admirable job of bringing deleted Web pages back from the dead, can resurrect it. I did manage to get a few screenshots before it disappeared, although only of a few text posts like this one.

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I wanted to write an article expanding the page’s reach. If I liked it, I figured that other people would like it too. In the process of doing that, I almost undoubtedly and inadvertently sparked whoever was running the page to wipe it from the Internet forever.

Like if You’re a Teen started in May 2013. It made a little bit more sense in the context of the Facebook of mid-2013 than it does now—but only a little.

Around that time, Facebook was awash in memes posted by pages with names like Reading someone’s status and thinking ‘oh shut the fuck up’ or If that one little thing had/hadn’t happened, things would be so different. Other pages of this ilk were spammy content farms that stole pictures made by people across the Internet and posted them with links to shady websites packed with malware and ads.

The image macros of cute, inspiring, almost-funny photos adorned with blocky white text and comments reading “OMG, ‘like’ this right now” seemed to be crowding out everything else on the site. Memes had been bandied back and forth online for years in places like Reddit’s r/AdviceAnimals community, but it was only when they flooded Facebook that they became mainstream.

Memes are great in small doses. But when a slew of Facebook pages used their easy, unthinking sharability to flood people’s News Feeds with junk, they quickly became the bane of a lot of users’ online existence. Facebook eventually stepped in near the tail end of 2013 and instituted some major changes to its algorithm, deprioritizing memes in favor of articles and videos from established, professional content producers.

“Starting soon, we’ll be doing a better job of distinguishing between a high quality article on a website versus a meme photo hosted somewhere other than Facebook,” an official Facebook blog post explained. “This means that high quality articles you or others read may show up a bit more prominently in your News Feed, and meme photos may show up a bit less prominently.”

Facebook and meme culture spent about a year merged into a single entity that was ripe for satire. The change went a long way toward shifting daily Facebook use from hellish descent into idiocy back into a mundane ritual of habitual obligation.

Like if You’re a Teen took the format of those types of spammy 2013 pages and injected it with overflowing doses of experimental absurdism. It’s what would happen if one of those meme pages were run by a hyperactive 15-year-old on acid instead of someone cynically taking advantage of the way Facebook privileges one type of content over another to garner clicks. The whole project is even more nonsensical in 2015, because Facebook’s current algorithm doesn’t populate News Feeds with the type of content the page is meant to satirize. At less than two years old, the page was already an anachronism. Thanks, Internet!

Once I began following the page and started understanding its vernacular, I began posting my own content to it. For example, I took a cascade of screengrabs of the page’s banner and topped it off with a dollop of Internet-speak gibberish

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The page is supposed to seem like it was written by a real-life teen, but also maybe it wasn’t. In basically the only moment of outright, sincere lucidity I could find in the page’s entire existence, whoever runs the page responded to a note left on the page by a user with a nod to Weird Twitter to explain the page’s general deal with infinite self-awareness, before lapsing back into mock-outrageous silliness.

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I wrote “whoever runs the page” in the previous paragraph because I honestly had no idea who ran it. It could have been one 35-year-old dude with a weird sense of humor, or as the page’s About section implied, it could be “just 4 teens.”

I sent over a Facebook message asking questions about who was behind the page, what inspired its creation, and if the page’s name was meant as a command ordering people are themselves teen to hit the “Like” button on the page’s content or if the name was meant to imply that the posts are attempting to convey the universal experiences of adolescence.

After an initial response of “we will do an answer,” I didn’t hear anything back for a couple weeks. I had just about given up hope and put fault on the fact that the questions I asked weren’t in the language of Like if You’re a Teen. They were the types of things that journalists typically ask. Maybe a little sillier, but not by much.

But then, a few days ago, I got my answers. They were, of course, perfect.

“We are like if you’re a teen . com. We generate content for teens. We are from the hearts of all teens in America. We are not people, but teens,” the page’s administrator wrote, giving me basically all the personal information I was going to get. “We are a command, a thought, a substance, a subsidiary, and an annex. We are forgiving. All teens live in this cyber hell.

“If you are not a teen do not be here. If we tell you you are allowed we are tricking you and surely, you will die,” the person behind the page continued. “The only thing informing OUR work is the wretched soul of ‘Pablo’ Picasso himself.”

LOL.

There was also one specific incident I had to ask about. Last summer, I posted a comment Like If You’re A Teen’s fuzzy picture of a painting of George Washington. (The original picture posted is gone, but I managed to save the comments in a screengrab.) Like if You’re a Teen responded by writing my name over and over again. It was easily the most legitimately satisfying interaction I’ve ever had online.

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So I asked what was up with it. The response I got was a list of facts about George Washington, such as “He represented Virginia as a delegate to the First and Second Continental Congresses” and “He refused the offer from his officers to set up a monarchy with himself as king, an idea he viewed ‘with abhorrence.’”

About 24 hours after I saw the responses, I went back to the Like if You’re a Teen page to check on something for the story, but it was gone. The page had been erased, and as a result, my direct line of communication to its administrator had been severed. I couldn’t even ask why it had happened, if it was my fault. Even if the answer I got was indecipherable gibberish, which it surely would be, I still wanted to know. Was he or she afraid that publicizing Like if You’re a Teen would somehow lead to it coming back to their real-world identity, which could possibly have negative consequences for work or school? Or was it something else I hadn’t even considered?

The weirdness wasn’t funny because I lacked the context necessary to get it. It was funny because it seemed like there was no context to get.

The “Aaron Sankin” post is the one I show people when I try to tell them about Like if You’re a Teen. Most of them give the correct response, which is something along the lines of a small amount of polite laughter followed by some combination of “that’s weird” and an immediate attempt to change the subject.

If everyone liked the memes Like if You’re a Teen posted, they’d probably have to be as blandly generic as ones the page was set up to satirize. A couple people I’ve shown Like if You’re a Teen to became as immediately obsessed by it as I am. One started following and interacting with it even more often than I did. The other opened up her computer and spent a solid 30 minutes reading every single post in an effort to get some insight into the twisted mind behind it.

It had all the makings of a cult hit, and I figured, why not write an article about it? What could be the harm in helping grow that cult from 250 to 500 or maybe even a couple thousand? We’re living in a future where everyone is famous for 15,000 pageviews; building an audience is the reason people post things online, right?

I was likely making too many assumptions. A big part of what I enjoyed about Like if You’re a Teen is that it was inscrutable. What it posted never really made sense, but it did so in a way that wasn’t boring or off-putting. The weirdness wasn’t funny because I lacked the context necessary to get it. It was funny because it seemed like there was no context to get. Thinking I understood the mindset of the creator was a mistake because everything I liked about the page in the first place stemmed from that mindset being fundamentally not understandable.

Whoever was behind Like if You’re a Teen probably didn’t want a cult following. They probably just wanted to post some weird stuff for their friends, and Facebook somehow let me stumble onto it. On the Internet, it’s rare that you go out and actively find the things you like. Instead, it’s all the more likely that they find you. The trouble is that sometimes those things don’t really want to be found.

Illustration by J. Longo