About three months ago, Cassondra–a senior at a high school in New Jersey—responded to a post seeking moderators for a Facebook page she had liked some time back. The page was titled "Garlic Bread Memes." The internet now knows the page for its recent scandal over what some call a transphobic meme, but back then, it was a hub for innocent, apolitical appreciation of garlic bread.
"I was like, 'Oh, sweet, I could work for a meme page whom I've grown to ironically love," Cassondra told me.
On Sunday, the Garlic Bread Memes page posted a meme some took as transphobic because of its implication that gender doesn't exist on a spectrum. Plenty found the meme funny, while others were angry that the page posted something capable of being construed as mocking transgender people. On Monday, it was picked up on the subreddit r/ImGoingToHellForThis, sending angry Redditors to the page, who threw a fresh can of lighter fluid on already flaming comments. As Select All's Brian Feldman pointed out today, Facebook meme pages are positioning themselves as the next frontier of the internet's culture wars, where seemingly innocuous pages about superimposing text over photos can turn into a ideological battleground with a tap of the return key.
But strife extended beyond the page's thousands of followers—a separate clash of egos and beliefs was looming inside the page's ranks of administrators. On Tuesday, Cassondra found herself as the lone voice of dissent against the decision to post memes like the now-infamous "two slice" meme, and as a result, Boaz—the 18-year-old administrator of the "Garlic Bread Memes" page—kicked her out of the group of moderators.
It wasn't always this hostile. Cassondra really enjoyed most of her time as a moderator at "Garlic Bread Memes," she said, which now has more than 250,000 likes. As a moderator, she replied to messages from people all over the world. Some wanted to share their own garlic bread memes; others just wanted to issue their own opinions on the garlic-y, butter-y snack.
According to Cassondra, Boaz runs a pretty tight ship: moderators like Cassondra handle public outreach while the site's dozen or so editors, who primarily know each other from running the page, produce between three and five memes per week. When a meme is completed, the page's editors and moderators debate the merits of its humor before Boaz eventually signs off on the post. The goal, Boaz told me, is to produce about three memes per day.
For the most part, Cassondra thought the editors and moderators were "decently nice." Occasionally, editors were rude, Cassondra said. At one point, an editor wanted to post a self-harm meme. "I wish we could post stuff like that," Cassondra recalled Boaz saying. (Caity, an editor at Garlic Bread Memes, said she did not remember if this exchange occurred, citing a preponderance of conversation in the group.)
On Sunday, Boaz decided the Garlic Bread Meme should post an offensive or controversial meme to drum up attention, like the one that was eventually posted. Caity confirmed Boaz posted the meme with the knowledge that it would be controversial, but said plans to intentionally post offensive memes to garner traffic were only intended to be humorous.
Cassondra didn't participate in the decision to post the controversial meme, Cassondra told me, but did spot it the next morning on her dashboard. "And I was like, 'Holy shit,'" she said, "because I knew people were going to be so upset by it."
After seeing Boaz's comments in a BuzzFeed article by Ryan Broderick, she chose to confront Boaz about the meme (Boaz's replies are in purple in the screenshots below): "Boaz ur replies to ryan were kind of fucked up m8," she wrote. Boaz admits that he "wanted to create a controversy."
"Also because of the meme we've gained nearly 10,000 likes this week," Matt, another Garlic Bread Memes editor, says in the group text. "That's double what we usually get weekly." After Cassondra replied that the meme is "still kind of fucked up," she said, she was kicked out of the Facebook group.
"She was taking the joke way too seriously," Boaz told Fusion. "And didn't show a sense of humor about it." Boaz, for his part, doesn't seem fazed by the criticism levied against his decision.
"The comments were highly amusing," Boaz says, referring to the myriad jokes left in the comments against adopters of trans-friendly syntax. "It's just a meme about garlic bread."
Caity, who has held the longest tenure at Garlic Bread Memes after Boaz, said that she understood how the meme could be perceived as transphobic, but insisted the staff of Garlic Bread Memes were not hateful people. "This is a meme page, and people should assume that we are going to be posting memes, not politically correct statements and photos of rainbows all the time," she said.
She explained that the "joke" of Garlic Bread Memes is that they insert garlic bread references into trending memes. The humor itself is, in part, referential, Caity says. It's irony that some people just don't get.
In the instance of the gender meme, Caity says the post was meant to riff on this photo:
"The humour of ours was literally, 'Fuck, that's funny, we could/should join in on this meme as it is getting popular,'" she said. "Any meme that picks up speed, we will take it."
Caity and Boaz love the page, though, and said they're not planning on stopping any time soon. Boaz spends a few hours a day on the page, and is hoping to start selling merchandise soon. With Cassondra out of the group, the page is simply moving on.
"An editor said, because of the meme, we had gained more than 10,000 likes overnight," Cassondra says. "But at what cost?"
Michael Rosen is a reporter for Fusion based out of Oakland.