This post has been updated with statements from one of the admins involved in dissolving Post Aesthetics.
At this very moment, all 40,000 members of the popular Facebook meme group Post Aesthetics (PA) are being deleted one by one. By next week, there will be no members left.
It all started last Friday afternoon. Post Aesthetics was founded as a "secret" group, where members primarily posted memes and discussed funny and ironic anecdotes (from non-Intenret life). Over the past several months, its membership swiftly ballooned into the tens of thousands. Disillusioned by the group's rapid growth and depreciating content quality, like the reposting of the same tired memes, two of the group's 21 administrators and moderators staged a coup. They removed the 19 other managers from their positions. One of the remaining admins then began to run a script that would delete each member from the group until there were no members left.
In its final moments, the membership of Post Aesthetics (PA) was as large as the population of Atlantic City, New Jersey. With a group that size, it will take the script over a week to run its course. But for now, as the member count visibly dwindles, the abbreviation "PA" seems more indicative of "post-apocalypse" (as some wags still left in the group have pointed out). At press time, it was down to about 17,500 members.
However, as we all know, if there's one thing the "weird Internet" is good at facilitating, it's the creation of factions. When members realized that their community was slowly being disintegrated, several splinter groups formed. Two new communities have emerged as the largest offshoots: "Rach Aesthetics" (founded by writers of one of PA's greatest creations, the Hamilton-parody Jeb! The Musical) and "Post post post post aesthetics" (moderated by part of PA's old mod team). It's a schism that many group members have, with tongues firmly in cheeks, compared to the fall of the ancient Roman Empire.
In a bid to preserve the community, one former PA member named Lucas* created PPPPA shortly after the script began running and gave admin status to former PA mods and admins -- and, subsequently, regular PA-style discourse (in between the usual posting of memes and "weird internet" ephemera) has resumed to some degree. Over in Rach Aesthetics, the moderators say most of their content is "shitposting," (i.e. pointless, weird content) so there hasn't been much trouble yet.
"Modding for RA is almost a meme in itself," says Rach admin Anna Abraham. "We haven't had anything overtly racist/sexist/queer-phobic/problematic yet, which gives me hope for future internet communities."
After all, beneath its seemingly-pointless exterior, PA also managed to facilitate important conversations about the politics and social implications of memes—a recent fight over the racism of popular meme "Dat Boi" was covered by PAPER and several other sites. In its "golden age," PA encouraged a culture of inclusivity and accessibility that groups like PPPPA and RA hope to uphold and improve.
As member Ashe Girard posted in PPPPA in the midst of the original group's decline, "As a multiply-marginalized disabled person, PA was never a 'meme group.' […] It was a place where I could critique cultural norms of transmisogyny and get hundreds of people to interact with it and spark *relevant* and *necessary* discourse. PA was a place with 39k people that I felt comfortable calling out ableism and hundreds of people could learn to be Less Shitty Humans™."
But until the script finishes deleting members for good, there's still plenty of room for grumbling. While interest has dwindled, some of the members not yet ejected are still posting in PA--though admittedly the majority is self-referential comments about the group's slow demise. The motives behind the self-destruction have been shrouded in mystery, though the writing of a script to systematically, individually delete people from the group is, in a way, the perfect death for PA. (And a pretty internetty troll.) One former PA admin (who wishes to remain unnamed) did admit that "[The coup] didn't come from nowhere."
"It was long-running tensions on the mod team coming to a head," she explained. "But the way it happened and how quickly was a complete surprise."
"[The mod who triggered the disintegration of PA] did what they did because they were concerned about low content quality and a rash moderation style, and an internal mod culture where expressing dissent wasn't comfortable. I believe they were also concerned about the drift away from the group's original purpose (whatever that was).
Our policy on trigger warnings was an example of good intentions gone wrong. It seemed we'd had a group culture where trigger warnings were more used to exhaust the problematic components of a cultural object than to efficiently assist people with trauma. For example, I felt like things like the Dat Boi ban ignored valid criticism from a lot of the people of color it purported to be on behalf of. I'm not saying criticisms like these were reason to delete the group, but they certainly contributed to the feeling that Post Aesthetics had become a toxic space. Turning things over to either side of the mod conflict couldn't heal it.
On top of that, there was a legitimate fear people would be targeted for having taken over the group. I had the script and I offered to use it because things looked like they could go in the direction of harassment. In a tense moment, where concern about doxxing was on our minds, blasting the thing to hell seemed like a good idea. And the fact that some of us disliked the group wasn't the reason to do that, but it didn't hurt that a lot of people thought it needed to go."
The original non-explanation of the decision to end the group didn't satisfy all the moderators. Several of the former mods have remarked that this choice was "careless" and "communicated poorly." The leader of the coup commented (in posts that appear to have since been deleted) that the decision took place after a "semi-democratic vote" -- a confusing contradiction that has become a meme in and of itself in the splinter groups.
If anything, the overthrow of PA is a cautionary tale for moderators of new groups, like PPPPA and RA, on how to democratically restructure and manage a large group, while maintaining a safe space for all types of memers. At least one of these new PA offshoots has taken this to heart.
"I didn't want anything like a hierarchy, so I made [all of the moderators] admins when I made PPPA," Lucas says. "I want no more ownership over the group than any of them."
That said, Post Aesthetics isn't gone forever yet. But as they say, when one Roman Empire of meme groups closes, a ton of other city-state meme groups open.
* = This person requested that their last name be omitted