#40: The Crazy World of Wild Green Ecological Memes – Rhett Barker and Curtis Sarkin

#40: The Crazy World of Wild Green Ecological Memes – Rhett Barker and Curtis Sarkin Nature's Archive

Summary

My guests today are Rhett Barker and Curtis Sarkin of the incredibly popular Wild Green Memes for Ecological Fiends.

If you don’t know Wild Green Memes, it’s a Facebook group of over 475,000 members. And it’s quite possibly the most enjoyable place I’ve found on social media. 

Before I go any further, yes, today’s episode is a bit different than my typical episodes. But you’re still going to learn some fascinating ecology! You’ll hear about spiders that keep frogs as pets, the amazing nomadic steller’s sea eagle, a tree that has exploding seed pods, lungless salamanders, and more.

But the focus of today’s episode is how the humble meme has turned into an amazing tool for fun, education, and even nonprofit fundraising! In case you’re wondering what the heck a meme is, I found this nice succinct definition. A meme is a virally transmitted image embellished with text, usually sharing pointed commentary or humor about cultural symbols, social ideas, or current events.

Today Rhett and Curtis discuss how Wild Green Memes came to be, and the clever ways that they manage the group, facilitating its insanely rapid growth while maintaining the group’s culture. You’ll hear how they turned a trend of wildlife “gang” memes into a basis for highly successful nonprofit fundraising.

And of course, we talk about the funniest memes and meme trends that they’ve seen.

As Curtis, says, we’re only scratching the surface of the potential of memes.

You can find Wild Green Memes for Ecological Fiends on Facebook, and they also have a presence on Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter, as well as a podcast called Wild Green Streams.

So without additional delay, Rhett Barker and Curtis Sarkin.

Did you have a question that I didn’t ask? Let me know at naturesarchivepodcast@gmail.com, and I’ll try to get an answer! I’ll add these Q&As to my monthly newsletter, so if you aren’t already subscribed, go here. I promise, no spam. I share the latest news from the world of Nature’s Archive, as well as pointers to new naturalist finds that have crossed my radar, like podcasts, books, websites, and more.

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Music Credits

Opening – Fearless First by Kevin MacLoed

Closing – Beauty Flow by Kevin MacLoed

Both can be obtained from https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/

Transcript

Transcripts are automatically created, and are about 95% accurate. Apologies for any errors.

[00:00:00] Michael Hawk: All right. Rhett. And Curtis, thank you so much for joining me today.

[00:00:03] Rhett Barker: Thanks for having us.

[00:00:04] Michael Hawk: So this is a little different than a lot of my episodes where I’m usually talking to biologists or ecologists. And , I guess both of you fit that characterization as well, but really we’re going to be talking about wild green memes for ecological fiends and that amazing group that’s come into my radar over the last couple of years.

[00:00:23] So I’m really excited to figure out how you did it and how you bring so much joy to so many people in this time or social media is sort of a double-edged sword. So before we get into that, how about we just talk a little bit about both of you. So let’s start with you. Can you tell me a bit how you got into nature and the first.

[00:00:40] Rhett Barker: It grew up into nature. I don’t have a lightning bolt moment or like a spark bird moment. I think birders say I just was raised with. Parents who were very outdoorsy and grew up on croc hunter and Jeff Corwin, documentaries on the TV every night. And went through high school.

[00:00:55] I made a lot of YouTube videos in high school for little mini nature documentaries. And that kind of led me in a way to major in wildlife, ecology and undergrad. And then I just got done with grad school for a wildlife film. So it’s just been a pretty certain path for me from the beginning.

[00:01:12] Michael Hawk: So a marriage of a, of creation and ecology. It sounds

[00:01:17] Rhett Barker: Oh, absolutely.

[00:01:18] Michael Hawk: Yeah. Thank you.

[00:01:19] Curtis Sarkin: live in coastal new England. From longer than I can remember, just exploring tide pools and salt marshes and Rocky shores and all sorts of beach habitats. And just getting my hands muddy and shoes filled with sand looking for crabs and fish and eels and lobsters, horseshoe, crabs, all this cool stuff and also live in the range of a lot of Vernal pool amphibians.

[00:01:52] So I got involved with different clubs and nonprofits and different internship programs and volunteer work on whale watches on monitoring amphibian migrations, and just fell in love with. Nature. And longer than I can remember, like my passions have been reptiles, amphibians and Marine life and not a local thing, but just prehistoric life has always fascinated me.

[00:02:21] It’s all igneous rock here, unfortunately. But yeah I can’t pinpoint it. I think a lot of baker people are kind of the same of just like, I don’t know. I like it.

[00:02:31] Michael Hawk: It scratches that itch for novelty, but there’s always more to learn and more to find out. And it sounds like that’s the path you’ve been on as far back as you can remember.

[00:02:40] Rhett Barker: One of the things I like most about nature. Like you’re saying, is that the closer you look at it, or, no matter where you go, there’s always something that you’ve never even considered before. You’ll just automatically, almost immediately see something.

[00:02:53] Curtis Sarkin: And we’ll get into this later, but I think The main appeal of our Facebook community is that it’s not a group about frogs. It’s not a group about plants. It’s not a group about dinosaurs. It’s a group about ecology. So the potential for humor in memes and topics is as diverse as by a diversity itself and then throw in some antibiotic geology and cosmology and fun stuff like that as well.

[00:03:20] So I feel like that really is part of why the groups work so well is it’s the topics are literally limitless. If you were to make a meme about every organism this group would last billions of years.

[00:03:31] Michael Hawk: Okay. So let’s just jump right in then to the group. When I checked a couple of days ago, I saw that the group had 440,000 members, which is just mind blowing in a number of different ways. One just for how focused the group is yet. There’s such a huge audience out there for this sort of content.

[00:03:50] Maybe a, I guess this is Rhett, can you tell me a bit about the origin story and the name, why this name.

[00:03:58] Rhett Barker: I went to undergrad at the university of Florida and I did their wildlife ecology major. And that’s significant to the story because that’s where I made my major friend group which is what the group started with. We just wanted a meme page for ourselves, essentially to share a little goofy memes we were making about wildlife or ecology or, school or field work or whatever we happen to be doing at the time.

[00:04:21] . It grew from there just organically, essentially. Like for awhile it was in an odd way, like a parallel to how I think it must’ve been when Facebook started, because we would go through waves of new members. We’d be like, oh look, Cornell just came in and, oh, there’s Texas a and M and we’d go to the different universities that had wildlife departments.

[00:04:40] And then it started branching out to the same phenomenon, but in France or the same thing. But in, some town in Australia that had a university like Darwin, and then we’d watch the cities creep up in population within the group that way. Lately I think we’ve surpassed that now.

[00:04:56] We’re essentially just, it’s the general public that we’re reaching now or, the public that’s interested in nature.

[00:05:01] Michael Hawk: Should I expect a a Hollywood documentary or a movie like the social media but specific to wild green memes,

[00:05:09] Curtis Sarkin: As long as it paints us in a good light, I don’t think, I don’t think the social network of ADA made duck look that good.

[00:05:15] Rhett Barker: I think it’s fine. As long as my character and every other character in the film has played by.

[00:05:19] Michael Hawk: Yeah, I think you’re safe and being painted in a good light, so I interrupted you. Go ahead with your train of thought.

[00:05:24] Rhett Barker: so anyway after about a year there were around a thousand people in the group, which I thought was an insane number of people, honestly much, surpassing the Ford year. So friends and acquaintances, I added to it to begin with. And it was in 2018, there was a trend across the whole internet of moth memes like people just for a minute every picture on the internet was no longer cats.

[00:05:48] Like it was in the early meme culture, 10 years ago it was all moths. And we decided to pull a prank on the members of the group. The way the group works is that people submit memes to the group.

[00:06:00] And then we can accept or reject them based on whether or not they fit the theme and the rules of the group. And we just temporarily for about a week, stopped accepting any meme that didn’t have a moth in it and waited for people to notice and people started noticing and they thought that was really fun.

[00:06:16] And we never said anything about it. We just let people make conspiracy theories. This must be something they’re doing. And eventually it hit this fever pitch and it made like this feedback cycle where people started submitting lots of new things that were moth memes they were making in response to the trend.

[00:06:31] And we started playing into it in ways that were indirect. I started talking in all caps whenever I left a comment and I started implying that I had been taken over by a bunch of moths and at the crescendo of it I switched the cover photo for the group to a lamp. Um, because like lamps. And then as far as it could, with just a few thousand people, the group lost its mind at that and then the next day what we did is we said, okay, so what do we do now? So that this doesn’t become a permanent moth group. Like, how do we, end on a high here and not just get tired of mods?

[00:07:03] So we said there was a temporary overpopulation of moths and we were going to use natural pest control by introducing bats into the the meme ecosystem. So we started accepting memes about bats and memes about other insectivorous animals. And that’s how we took care of the moth.

[00:07:20] Curtis Sarkin: I think the funniest thing was once we started letting in memes other than moths one of the mods changed the cover photo from a lamp to a lamp that had been turned off. So it’s just no, we’re not attracting in the moths anymore. And then there was a whole debate over, like, why are bats getting all the attention when spiders are important in controlling a moths and got wacky, but yeah, we really owe it to mods in terms of dislike.

[00:07:50] Okay. This is, that was that light bulb moment. Yeah. I went there of just yeah, this has potential to be bigger than. As silly little group of jokes, only people with backgrounds in.

[00:08:03] Rhett Barker: So that was the first meme trend per se, that the group had. And it kick-started the growth. We never really stopped growing at a pretty fast rate after that. And we went from about 1000 people in the group to about 5,000 within a week. And then by the end of the year, we had over 10,000 and it’s continued from there.

[00:08:22] Michael Hawk: Yeah, I missed out on the moth meme craze. I mean, I was aware of it, but I wasn’t part of your group at that stage. And of course, where my mind just went was you need some parasitoid memes. They’re like you really get dark.

[00:08:34] Rhett Barker: Oh, that would have been a great idea.

[00:08:36] Michael Hawk: Yeah. So that trajectory, I guess you doubled and then doubled again, or actually more than doubled and then doubled again by the end of 2018.

[00:08:43] What have you seen as important for sustaining that growth over the last couple of years?

[00:08:49] Rhett Barker: So we’re less concerned with the actual number of members and more with the quality of the community which I think perversely actually increases the growth in some ways, because more people want to be part of it and less people leave the group. But our goal is just to be a good version of the group, whatever size that happens to be.

[00:09:07] So we’ve actually throttled growth as it’s gone on I’ve seen groups that had similar trends and behaved in similar ways to us. And they accepted . Every member that came through and in a month they were up to a million members or more. And we’ve really we have set numbers of people that we let in per period of time usually.

[00:09:25] And we vary it up and down depending on how difficult the group has been to moderate recently, because we found that the growth rate rather than the population is what determines. How it is to moderate and like how much trouble we have in it that we have to have many fires we have to put out.

[00:09:38] All that said I think that, within that, it’s just that sustained growth comes from having a good thing. And, having something that people want to participate in Facebook’s algorithm seems to favor primarily engagement above all else. And of course that can lead to issues with bad actors or without, content moderation across the site.

[00:09:59] But if you have people who are tracking, everything going on in a, group and they’re, putting out fires and trying to make sure that everyone’s friendly with one another and everyone feels safe Then this kind of silliness emerges just on its own. I think it’s a thing that people just do, and they just enjoy being silly.

[00:10:17] And that also can take off with the algorithm because people will leave a lot of comments and make a lot of reacts and then, post memes and related to each other and keep coming back to it. It’s a wholesome means of using the algorithm to get more.

[00:10:30] Michael Hawk: That makes sense. I, there’s a couple of interesting things that I know I’m going to take away. If I find myself in a similar position managing a group and the, I liked the idea of throttling the growth, because that gives people a chance to adjust to the culture of the group and understand what’s going on in the group before jumping in and maybe steering it in a different direction.

[00:10:49] That seems really instructive. Yeah. The other thing I see is that because you have such an active community and then I think layered with moderation, you mentioned before. Things are always evolving and kinda, pulling in some current events and then just evolving on their own sort of natural little courses as well.

[00:11:06] Do you see that really just happening organically in the community, or do you sometimes instigate some of these things behind this?

[00:11:13] Curtis Sarkin: always say I don’t make meme trends. I encourage them. I will, if something already seems like it has the potential, like I remember this expression from back when memes were going from the weird bad side of the internet to the mainstream of dislike, you can’t force a mean, and that’s so true.

[00:11:34] You have to have like several independent parties who don’t know each other, all clinging to like, okay, this is good. This is funny. This has the potential for remixes and vitality, for whatever reason. Yeah. I will definitely fan the flames of I want this meme to thrive because it’s funny and it has potential.

[00:11:53] But I, it doesn’t work on dislike. Hey, I really think we need more memes about paramecium. I’m going to beg 10 memes about paramecium because people are like, where did this? Where’d this come from? It’s just one person. If it’s just one person repeatedly posting the same concept, it’s not going to catch on once.

[00:12:13] Like you, like I said, you kinda need this guys, this hive mind in order for for this perfect storm.

[00:12:20] Rhett Barker: Yeah, I’ll say that I’ve found it completely impossible from the start in point any way to predict which mean will set off a trend, like a lot of the time, a meme that I don’t even particularly like that sounds bad, but I’ll approve it and I’ll be like, okay, this one, a few people will like this and then I’ll get on the group a few hours later and every meme will be that related to that thing.

[00:12:45] So it’s, very hard to predict what will actually take off from starting points. It’s easier to figure out what kind of conditions it takes to start a trend. We’ll allow reposts into the group and posts of means from other places. But we found that there’s an ideal balance to it and where we’re not, inhibiting people from sharing things, but also basically if we have a smaller number of reshared things and we really focus on, making sure that new content that people make gets through, we found that really generates meme trends a lot more quickly.

[00:13:19] And then the other principle of it is that nothing is too niche. And that the right people will see it. So if there’s a joke and it’s a funny joke, but it uses information that very few people know that doesn’t necessarily mean that it won’t take off or that everyone won’t know that information tomorrow.

[00:13:37] Because the people who get it will feel like almost proportionally, like they’re in on the joke and they’ll go crazy over it and enjoy it. And then everyone else comes up to speed more or less pretty quickly. And then we all, we’re all in on the joke together.

[00:13:50] Curtis Sarkin: And there’s also this kind of trend of Not being in on the joke, being a joke in and of itself and just the confusing nature of the group, or like the rapid fire evolution of these trends being like, it’s sorta like a meme unto itself. People always are poking fun at themselves for having no idea what’s going on.

[00:14:09] If they’ve left the group for a few days or even a few hours, and suddenly everybody’s talking about stellar sea Eagles or or, toucans or gars or whatever.

[00:14:19] Rhett Barker: Dolphins are olives like some bizarre statements that have never been said before in human history.

[00:14:24] Curtis Sarkin: Yeah. So I think the being in on the joke and not being in on the joke have become like equally funny and equally part of the group.

[00:14:34] Michael Hawk: think one of the really interesting things if I had more educational background in sociology, I would love to do a deep dive study of the group because what you just touched on there is so interesting because you’ve somehow created this culture in the group where somebody can say something so esoteric and that triggers people to go out and learn and figure out what is this term?

[00:14:56] What does this thing mean? And next thing, you have 440,000 people or whatever your active engagement number is, learning this new concept that they didn’t know before all because of a meme and at there’s probably other observations that both of you have had. What other sort of strange or interesting group dynamics have you noticed in, know, in this.

[00:15:15] Curtis Sarkin: Definitely , people like to share. The fact that they learn something new. It’s almost I dunno, coming home from school and being like mom today, I learned that a tadpole turns into a frog only it’s like, Hey, was anybody going to tell me that beavers have ? Or was I just supposed to learn that from a science learner article myself?

[00:15:36] Cause it’s just like there are so many formats that just lend themselves like that. One for example is a comedian. Chris Fleming and he has a line from one of his specials where he’s just Was anybody going to tell me that wall versus suck the skin off of seals? Or was I just supposed to learn that from national geographic, myself, which in and of itself is a fantastic wild green meme.

[00:15:58] Like it doesn’t even need to be edited, but then before, you know, it everybody’s just like, was anybody going to tell me that shrews fertilize pick your plants with their feces? Or was I just gonna learn that from a meme group myself. So people like to share that they learned something weird and new in hopes of others learning it as well.

[00:16:20] So again, suddenly you’re taking these big concepts and condensing it into two sentences and Rhett and I, and the mods are fact checking all this before we approve and learning some really cool stuff ourselves and dispelling myths in the process.

[00:16:36] Rhett Barker: There’s a meme example from the fact checking any way that blew my mind. Sometimes I’ll see something that has a fact embedded in it. And I’ll think there is no way on this planet, that fact is true. And then I’ll go look it up. And it is like an example is there’s a tree in south America that has thorns and the thorns explode.

[00:16:58] I don’t remember what the trigger is like if you touch them or if it’s a temperature thing or what, but there’s a tree with exploding thorns in south America. And there was a meme about that and I saw it and I almost turned it down. Because

[00:17:10] Curtis Sarkin: Oh, I turned it down several times.

[00:17:12] Rhett Barker: absurd.

[00:17:12] What,

[00:17:13] Curtis Sarkin: I said, I turned it down several times and I thought there’s no way. This is real.

[00:17:17] Rhett Barker: yeah. And then I think Curtis or someone else on the team looked it up and it was real. And I, it just, it made my day because it was just something I never would’ve conceived could be real. And I learned something new about it.

[00:17:27] Michael Hawk: I’ll tell you why I’m going to have to go look into that because I’m super curious now as to what is the evolutionary advantage of that?

[00:17:33] Rhett Barker: Yeah. I wish I remembered right off hand why they explode, but it’s just a tree with exploding thorns right on the face of it is pretty nuts.

[00:17:42] Michael Hawk: I’ll I’ll cut in some explanation. I’ll do some research offline and get that.

[00:17:46] Rhett Barker: great.

[00:17:47] Curtis Sarkin: The other one that I just couldn’t believe was true was that And it says it’s two very or three very different areas of the world and Pru, India and Sri Lanka. There are large spiders tarantulas and Peru. And I’m not sure what spider groups they are in in Asia that keep small frogs in their dens as like a, I believe a means of pest control to keep pests from bothering the tranches and in return, the tranches don’t eat the frogs.

[00:18:19] So they it’s basically spider giant spiders keeping tiny frog, those pets. And I got this beam so many times and I’m like, that cannot be true. That has to just be a picture. And somebody edited in a wacky caption, and now it’s real.

[00:18:34] Rhett Barker: The photos of it. Look wild. They’re just. Completely fake.

[00:18:38] Michael Hawk: And know there could be a whole theme of animals, farming other animals, I think like that. And that would be one of the most outlandish ones.

[00:18:47] Curtis Sarkin: And aunts and aphids.

[00:18:49] Rhett Barker: Yeah. Ants and beetles do all kinds of farming. It’s it’s almost surprises me when they don’t at this.

[00:18:54] Michael Hawk: Yeah. So I was going to ask you about some of the craziest things that you’ve learned . From the memes. And and let me jump to a current event. You, somebody here mentioned the stellar sea Eagle a few minutes ago. So there’s been this stellar sea Eagle, roaming, the continent last roaming north America, I should say, just to be specific seemingly lost.

[00:19:14] And it’s triggered a lot of new stories and of course, some memes as well. And I’m curious have you, what have you learned about the Steller sea Eagle from moderating this group?

[00:19:23] Curtis Sarkin: I learned that it’s spelled stellar as in a guy’s name with E R and not stellar. Like it’s awesome. I had to realize I made that typo and like all of the memes that I made about,

[00:19:37] Rhett Barker: I think he’s a stellar Eagle anyway.

[00:19:39] Curtis Sarkin: He’s a stellar. Stellar’s Sea Eagle.

[00:19:42] Rhett Barker: Yeah,

[00:19:43] Michael Hawk: Yeah, that was an easy spelling for me out here in California. We have a Jay called the Steller’s Jay, and then there’s a Steller sea lion and a bunch of things named after

[00:19:52] Curtis Sarkin: Stellar, sea cow. They’ve giant, giant extinct Manatee type thing.

[00:19:57] Rhett Barker: in peace.

[00:19:59] Curtis Sarkin: Yeah. I learned about their range. I learned about their size. I learned about their diet. I learned about their call. I don’t think I even knew that the species existed before a week ago. Yeah. In the process of making quite a few memes about this bird I. quite a bit and being a new Englander, it was honestly the second time I’ve had a new England focus, meme trend, and the other being the the cranberry bogs and Cape Cod.

[00:20:28] So that was fun. I’m sure. Rhett can relate with the Iguanas is dropping from the trees in Florida and anything alligator related

[00:20:37] Rhett Barker: Oh, yeah. I live in Florida, so we get a range of things. Florida’s like little Australia as far as wildlife concerns. So we get a wide array of references that come from here.

[00:20:47] Michael Hawk: And before, before we move on, I wanted to ask Curtis, have you had a chance to actually go and see this bird?

[00:20:53] Curtis Sarkin: now it’s not quite in my area. It was earlier, but it’s hours and hours away. It.

[00:21:00] Michael Hawk: . And then for a, for Rhett so being from Florida, where there any meme trends or meme specifically about Florida that were a surprise to you or triggered something.

[00:21:11] Rhett Barker: It started out almost hyper-specific to Florida because it was all people who were going to USF. And we had a lot of memes that were very niche within the idea of like our classes. So memes about, I don’t know how often you burn longleaf pine forests and things like that. So it originated with Florida.

[00:21:30] Wildlife memes to be even more niche than it already is, but it’s just branched out from that.

[00:21:35] Michael Hawk: So I I was wondering, you talked about this moth phase and I know there’ve been a number of crazes. And one, one that I think right when I joined there is an ant phase and I joined sort of midstream and it seemed like the ants were taking over the group. Can you tell me, I never really heard the story.

[00:21:53] What was happening there

[00:21:55] Rhett Barker: there’s this group on Facebook called a group where we all pretend to be ants in an ant colony and they’re independent of us. They’re just their own thing. But they grew up on their own early in the pandemic, I think, as a hobby for people who are stuck inside mostly or who were maybe stuck in their yards.

[00:22:13] And they. It’s a really funny group. It’s I’m a big fan. They basically it’s exactly what its name says. It’s a group where there’s all these people, a 1.8 million people now, apparently, and they all pretend that they’re ants and they all type in all caps and , they’ll post things like, sisters, I have found food and then they all type lift and all caps, the mod team the founder, I think, refers to themselves as the queen.

[00:22:40] And everyone’s, like all hail the queen and they have this prank that they pull across Facebook that they did for a while, where they would go into other groups and they would say they were invading and they were taking over. And then for a little while all of the comments and this other group would just be nothing, but all caps, single exclamation words as if the ants were speaking and they would be like attack, lift, retreat and everything like that.

[00:23:05] And that that was a Facebook wide trend that we participated in because it’s.

[00:23:10] Michael Hawk: Did they invade you or did did you say, Hey, come on over here for a bit.

[00:23:13] Rhett Barker: They invaded us and I posted some about it as well. Like we, we participated in the invasion.

[00:23:19] Curtis Sarkin: I think it got to the point where like, when you’re in a group of a million people, Naturally, there’s going to be a few thousand in every like major meme group as well. So like they were, the ants were coming from inside the group. So I don’t know how much was an invasion and how much of it was like, they were already in both groups and just, you’re like, I post a picture of a beam about an anteater and they instinctively I’ll go bite thing attack.

[00:23:46] Michael Hawk: Yeah. It’s like I said you need to somehow find some sociologists to come in and just study this because I think there lessons that will reverberate across society that coming from these groups. So you’ve talked about a few of, if you means that you’ve learned and then some of the. Interesting phases that have happened. Are there any other like favorite or funniest memes that really spring to mind when you think back over the last few years?

[00:24:13] Curtis Sarkin: Yeah, one of mine’s my favorites. And this could potentially be a segue into talking about the nonprofit. But I just loved this meme because it was so niche and like an animal that’s near and dear to my heart too. There was this trend that predated. I dunno if it predates wild in memes, but it didn’t originate without being names of of gangs.

[00:24:35] And this idea of making fun of different like niche topics by jokingly insulting another group imagine having to cut your paper in a straight line, this post brought to you by a curvy scissors gang, or just like these really funny topics that weren’t ecological in the originally, I think they might’ve even been history names in their infancy.

[00:24:59] But somebody made one. I loved cause it was again like like the Chris Fleming, the comedian I referenced with the walrus and the national geographic. It was able to get across this really cool fact in such simple terms where they posted a picture of a red back salamander it’s the genus is Plethodon.

[00:25:19] They’re a small completely terrestrial salamander, so they don’t have any aquatic stage. Their eggs are laid on the land and they go through the complete metamorphosis in the egg. So rather than a tadpole, like larva, the salamander that emerges from the egg comes out as an adult.

[00:25:37] I’m not sure if they have gills during the larval stage in the egg, but as an adult, they have no lungs whatsoever. Their skin functions as their respiratory, organ entirely all amphibians breathe through their skin, to some extent, in addition to a gills or lungs.

[00:25:54] But the salamander , has no lungs at all. And somebody made a meme of the plethora Plethodontids salamander, which is what I’d grown up catching since I was a kid before I even knew like the binomial or anything. And it was just said imagine needing lungs to breathe. This meme brought to you by plethodon gang.

[00:26:15] , that’s freaking hilarious. It’s so niche it’s so such a weird thing to like insect. Humans or other species over look at this guy, eating lungs while at the same time, bringing up a really cool fact that there are terrestrial vertebrates that exist without lungs. So that I think that’s my all-time favorite lab BNB, just cause it’s it was so bizarre.

[00:26:38] And while still getting across this really cool fact and being down to a specific genus of a very widespread north American salamander, I don’t know that one just tickled my funny

[00:26:51] Michael Hawk: I think now in the future, every time I learned an interesting fact about an animal, I’m going to spend a few moments thinking about how I can reverse engineer that into a meme

[00:26:59] Curtis Sarkin: Oh yeah.

[00:27:00] Michael Hawk: and Rhett how about.

[00:27:02] Rhett Barker: The gang memes are pretty good. I, I have a lot of individual memes. I like a lot. I really like, okay, so per member, I think this was our most successful meme ever in the group. I don’t know if it actually originated here or not, but there is this meme format and it’s. It’s a Lord of the rings meme and it’s two panels.

[00:27:22] And originally and it’ll have Gandalf saying something and you insert what you want. And then it has the next frame in the movie, which is of Frodo saying, all right, thanks. Keep your secrets. And then so that’s been shortened, so that it’ll be some text at the top saying whatever the joke is.

[00:27:38] And then the joke is that you don’t understand what the first sentence was. So I’m trying to think of a good example of that before I go to the next level up, which is what this mean was

[00:27:47] Curtis Sarkin: I remember a good one. It was a, what does a leaf bug look like? And it just photos are really well camouflage, leaf bugs. And it is like the joke being that like the Googling, what does a leaf bug look like? Doesn’t help you because it just looks, you can’t really see the animal in a lot of these pictures.

[00:28:06] And then you had your Frodo saying, all right, then keep your secrets.

[00:28:10] Rhett Barker: So that’s the meme format. But there’s a lot of the time these things will kinda, it’s kinda like, you know, how cotton candy is made, where things get swirled around themselves over and over again. So the swirls are made of more swirls. So that’s this happening with this meme where there’s that already convoluted to explain, but visually pretty simple meme of the RA thing, keep your secrets format then there’s this new meme which they made, which is like a pun on top of that.

[00:28:36] And they have, it says, when you find out that most life in the ocean is undiscovered, and then it has a picture of Frodo, except now he’s on a coral reef and he has a snorkel and a mask on, and it says, and I have to spell this out for it to make sense. It’s a very visual joke, which is bad choice for a podcast, but it says.

[00:28:54] All right, then keep your secrets like SCA and then space. C R I T S. So it’s a pun on top of the original format reference. I thought that was hilarious. I sent that to like everyone I knew. And apparently a lot of other people thought of that too, because at the time we had about 30,000 members and it got about 30,000.

[00:29:14] So almost everyone in the group shared this meme. And that’s, that is unheard of. I’ve literally never seen that like a 400, if everyone in the group now shared something, it would just be like, everyone on earth has seen this thing. Like that’s the level of virality this meme had. But so I guess if I had to pick one, that might be my all time favorite.

[00:29:34] And then there’s another one that’s internet wide, but it’s frogging camp cranberries must be fall completely unexplainable. It’s just a picture it’s based on a picture that someone took and they captioned it of a frog in a cranberry bog and they captioned it. Frogging, cranberries must be fall.

[00:29:48] And a bunch of people just re posted that or variations of the picture with repeating that sentence. I have no idea why it went viral or what that’s the whole joke that there’s just an odd phrasing of something. But that thing was really funny as well. And that, that also went pretty.

[00:30:03] Michael Hawk: It seems to come back. I think every fall there’s a theme, a variation on that.

[00:30:08] Curtis Sarkin: It’s the only annual meme.

[00:30:10] Rhett Barker: Yeah. If you want something you make to come back over and over again, forever hitch it to a season. A lot of people have tried that with other seasons and it doesn’t work. There’ll be like something and something, it must be spring and it flops.

[00:30:21] Curtis Sarkin: The only one that sorta took off was a. At the same time as the cranberry bogs are flooded and the frogs are going into them in the Southern hemisphere in Australia, it’s becoming a spring and the magpies have their like super territorial sweeping season. So like those two I’ll always coincide.

[00:30:41] So the magpies never caught on quite as much as the frogs. I think the internet and just memes in general, even if it’s not eco theme, just fricking love frogs just lend themselves to meme and internet culture in ways that like no other organism will ever come close, maybe cats but not in our group at least.

[00:30:58] So yeah, frogging, cranberries must be fall and they’ll be lack of any meaning, just the absurdity of that caption on its own without any context is what made it funny. It’s just what’s the joke here. It’s that’s the joke. There is no joke. There’s no deeper meaning.

[00:31:14] Michael Hawk: Yep. It does sound like there’s some fertile ground for some merging of the Australian magpie and the frogs into some common meme. I don’t know what that would be, but it seems like there’s something there anyway. So you did mention the nonprofit and before we get there, I just had a couple more questions about the group and for those that haven’t been there before that aren’t a member of that group, I’m going to guess a lot of my audience probably already is, but Yeah.

[00:31:40] What should they expect? You mentioned that you’re metering the pace at which new members are added. So how long will it take to get into the group and then what’s the weekly cadence look like? Cause I know you have a few special days, like non meme Sunday.

[00:31:55] Rhett Barker: When you go to enter a group on Facebook, there are questions. You can answer the act as a tour, a terrain test. And I’m not a jerk test. If you answer all of those questions, you’ll get in very quickly right now. If you don’t answer them, you might not get in at all.

[00:32:10] Cause that’s the way that we throttle it is we or that we regulate, the growth rate is that we select for people who will answer those questions. And I think that also increases the odds that people will actually be engaged with.

[00:32:22] Curtis Sarkin: And Facebook restructured groups now where anyone can join you’re in the group right away. And you can can like, and react to any of the content. But In order to comment or post you need to be approved as a participant. So if anyone wants to join the group, you can join in a second.

[00:32:43] And you’re in like that. But if you want to be an active member, you need to pass our little riddles three

[00:32:48] Rhett Barker: Which are very difficult questions. What’s your favorite natural place that you’ve been to?

[00:32:53] Curtis Sarkin: or do, or explain one of our rules to us. So we know you understand.

[00:32:57] Michael Hawk: I here I am again, just thinking about how interesting it’s probably just to see what the favorite natural places are, is probably about to interesting answers to the questions. And I started a little full tiny group called. Backyard wildlife at the start of the pandemic, just as a place where people who were stuck at home , could go share what they’re finding in their own backyards.

[00:33:16] In retrospect, I should have asked more interesting questions for group admission, because then I could have learned at the same time.

[00:33:22] Curtis Sarkin: Yeah, we had absurd questions at the early on. And then we had to make them a little more serious at times to make sure people were actually reading the rule is, but like one of the earlier questions was simply birds question, mark and snake or. And we got some really funny responses out of those, but even like, what’s the, what’s your favorite, natural place you visited?

[00:33:47] We’ve we’ll get some funny ones. Earth is always a popular one. It’s okay.

[00:33:51] Rhett Barker: Can’t argue with that. And let’s say, unless boss buzz, Aldrin joins the chat. In which case he’s welcomed to say the moon, I guess.

[00:33:58] Curtis Sarkin: a lot of people have said the moon and I’m like, I don’t believe you. I can’t disprove, you’re not a buzz Aldrin with an, the count as some like 20 year old in Detroit or something. But I’m fairly certain you have not been there.

[00:34:13] Rhett Barker: there are just a handful of people who have been there left. So I imagine some of them aren’t real, at least.

[00:34:19] Michael Hawk: And then to the sort of weekly cadence, I mentioned the non meme Sunday and something I’ve gotten a lot of value from is the social media mega thread, which I so many interesting people out there contribute to that, that I’ve found, when they link to their Twitters or their Instagrams or, wherever they.

[00:34:39] So I’ve found that really valuable as well. Do you have other special days special events throughout either the week, the month or the year?

[00:34:47] Curtis Sarkin: Yeah. We started shutting down submissions on Saturdays just to give our mod team. There are say maybe five to eight active mods. Including a Rhett and I. And it was a lot of work just keep the group running nonstop. So Saturday became a day where we closed submissions.

[00:35:08] People can still comment and interact. But that was also a time for us to focus on stuff like that. Our group is doing like releasing a podcast episode on Saturdays, or posting some stuff from our Tik Tok feed, which another mod runs pretty much entirely or posting updates about our nonprofit or I’m announcing a new products.

[00:35:31] And as far as, like you said, with the mega threads we see them as a two-way street. Where at the same time we are promoting. Our social media channels pick talking Instagram outside of Facebook and allowing people to plug theirs and discover us , at the same time, people who don’t necessarily know that we’re more than Facebook.

[00:35:52] And another thing we do on Saturdays and merchandise mega thread, because we never wanted the group to feel spammy either from us or from other artists or designers or all that. So limiting merchandise and sales to a weekly spot, which allows people to see our stuff that we sell through our Patrion and storefront that we’re working on for summer or so.

[00:36:14] And also allowing this huge community of artists and designers and people to. really cool projects that they’re working on

[00:36:25] Rhett Barker: the function of the mega threads is really two fold. One it’s to like Curtis was saying it’s to prevent the group from being overwhelmed by one particular kind of content, especially self promotional content while letting people share their cool projects. Cause I would love to, to just have that be an unrestricted, it’s just that it’s hard to balance on its own.

[00:36:45] But the second function of it is that I think that the mega threads actually boost how much people projects and, craft things they’re selling and Instagrams and everything. I think it actually makes them get seen more because it gives people one centralized place to go look for them, especially when they’re already interested in finding new people or finding a new design on Etsy or, what have you it’s almost like a mini group within the group that happens every few weeks or every week, depending on which mega thread it is.

[00:37:14] Michael Hawk: it feels like a stroke of genius to me to set it up that way, the combination of the moderation, but then giving people that outlet to, to share and discover is so simple yet seems to be so effective.

[00:37:26] Rhett Barker: lot of the ideas in how we run the group are born out of spending too much time on Reddit and seeing what works and what doesn’t in subreddits. And then, that platform. A lot of it translates very cleanly over to Facebook.

[00:37:39] Michael Hawk: Interesting observation. And you mentioned that then just to moderate the group much less, some of the other work that goes on, five to eight people. And I, noticed that I suspect it to help with that operation. You created a Patreon that is also creative, I guess that’s a theme here.

[00:37:55] So can you tell me a bit about how the Patreon works.

[00:37:58] Rhett Barker: So we have all kinds of projects and they take a lot of time and sometimes resources on our part. The group is the biggest project just because of the sheer number of people in it. And it’s gotten to a point where it basically is a part-time job for each of us to run the group and to run all these, the Instagram, the tik tok, the even the Patreon itself has get a little gift rewards and silly postcards we send out.

[00:38:21] So in order to allow us to do that, basically we had to figure out some kind of way to pay people for their work. And Patrion is a really cool platform. It’s one of my favorite. Things on the internet, because it’s an, I it’s an alternative to advertising that doesn’t restrict content. So basically the old model, there are two old models for how you would distribute and fund like a media company.

[00:38:47] And one of those is you’d sell a bunch of ads and put them all in it, or you’d sell like classifieds in the newspaper, for example that’s still, how Facebook works. That’s the model that newspapers have been struggling to find an alternative to essentially the other model that used to happen a lot was subscriptions.

[00:39:03] And I know a lot of media companies did both and have done both some version of these. So subscriptions is where, obviously you have to pay to access the content. I feel like both of those kind of betray the promise of the internet in their own little way I like the openness and I like the scale of the internet and that everyone can be experiencing something together for the first time and they can be sharing things that can come to be seen by everyone. I think that’s a really cool thing. And I think we’re in a really neat moment in history for that.

[00:39:33] And certainly a meme group wouldn’t work, if it’s too restricted by subscriptions. So I would hate to see that become the primary or the only, model that a lot of creative people use. On the other hand, I think that there are a lot of problems that everyone’s always talking about with the ad model.

[00:39:48] That are coming up in are just blatantly obvious across social media now between having to maximize for engagement and issues of just how many people you have to reach before an ad becomes valuable. It keeps going on from there. So Patrion. It’s cool because it’s an optional subscription, so everyone can access it if they want.

[00:40:06] But if people like what you’re making a lot of the time, they’ll go subscribe to you to help support you, to make more of it or to expand the projects you’re doing. Or just to tell you, you’re doing a good job, they’ll throw you like a dollar a month. And, with enough people that turns into enough to support creators, doing all kinds of things.

[00:40:23] So we have a Patrion that helps us make all of our different series on Tik TOK, and we’re coming to YouTube soon. And primarily right now helps us run the group. And also lets us throw a little bit of money to conservation causes. We care about directly from, what we’re getting.

[00:40:38] Michael Hawk: Yeah, it’s I just started experimenting with Patrion on myself. So I, we were chatting a little bit before recording about how I’m in the midst of transitioning my career. So I, decided, you know, I’m paying a little bit of money for this podcast each week. I’d like to at least pay for it. So I set up a Patrion and this.

[00:40:54] And so far, I haven’t really pushed it, but I’ve been happy with how it works and the utility of it. And we have with a little creativity, like with the type of creativity that, that you and Curtis and your team have, I can see that being a really valuable way , to help you continue to grow.

[00:41:11] Curtis Sarkin: model is . We know none of the content will ever be patriotic exclusive, but you might be able to to see some of it early. So with , our own podcast, which we’re in the process of revamping for the summer. And with our YouTube projects you’ll be able to see those first as a Patrion subscriber before they go public.

[00:41:32] And then the other main rewards are gifts in the mail. So depending on which tier you choose you’ll either get one or two different stickers or magnets. We’re working on iron, on patches down the line. I know that’s been. Something that people have been asking for quite some time.

[00:41:49] So we’re excited to roll those out late spring or so, but yeah, so just a a fun little gift for a, an exchange , for people supporting us. And we try to keep them trendy. We have a steller’s sea eagle sticker for this month’s reward and, try to keep them something that is thematically.

[00:42:09] Michael Hawk: Yeah. That’s exactly what I was going to say is I was looking at your Patrion in the last few days, and I saw that stellar seat. So, uh, You refresh, it’s not just a logo sticker every month.

[00:42:18] Rhett Barker: Yeah, it’s fun to have as many outlets as we can find. Curtis usually does the designs for every month and those are basically just memes, but in real life. And a lot of the time Curtis writes some of these too, but a lot of the time I’ll write the postcards and usually pick some kind of literary reference like the metamorphosis and then turn it into a meme, an oil green meme.

[00:42:40] One time I did I took the metamorphosis and I made it into a story about someone turning into a crab and then they were cool with it. They’re just like, wow, I really liked being a crab and things like that. Cause we had a snail translator on the latest one and it’s just it’s it says, it explains what it is.

[00:42:57] And then the translation is like, I lie. I, and then it cuts off,

[00:43:03] Michael Hawk: That’s great. So we’ve briefly mentioned, alluded to. And talked a bit about the fact that you have a nonprofit. So you’ve been able to turn this big community into , an even, more impactful realm. So can you can you tell me about what the nonprofit is and what you’re focusing on?

[00:43:24] Rhett Barker: Like all our projects, the nonprofit is one more thing. That’s grown and evolved over time with the group. It started out pretty early on. It was just after moth memes. There’s a nature preserve near. Gainesville that , had run on hard times not through any fault of their own.

[00:43:39] And they were just having a temporary budget crisis and didn’t need that much money, but like it really needed to fill a gap. So I came up with this fundraiser idea to get the group, to raise money, to fill in that gap. And what we did is we took the gang means that Curtis was talking about. and wildlife people have a lot of rivalries, especially the more similar you are to another group of wildlife people. The more, the stronger the rivalry. It seems like, her purse or reptile and amphibian enthusiasts have a strong rivalry with birders. They like to make fun of each other for liking their respective group.

[00:44:15] And usually in a lighthearted way. But so I came up with the idea of taking those rivalries and having everyone join gangs, like herp gang or bird gang, or plant gang, or, whatever organism group you can think of. And we would have a battle and see who could donate the most money to this nature.

[00:44:33] And , we would donate in the name of that gang. So they’d be like, they donate $5 in her gang’s name or donate $10 It was called leafy boys back then, but like plant gangs, a name and the gang that raises the most money wins. There’s really not that much more to it than that.

[00:44:48] They don’t like when anything special, but anyone who donates over a certain amount gets a sticker of their gang that they can put on their water bottle. And people really liked that and they would make a lot of memes to promote their gang. And what that means is that, of course, because there’s a lot of activity going on there.

[00:45:02] Facebook shows it to a lot of people. So it’s the only artificial meme trend that I’ve ever seen to be reliably worthwhile. And I think it’s because people just like the spirit of it and they know what they’re doing. They really like participating in this every year. So for the first few years, We raised money for that nonprofit.

[00:45:19] But as the group grew, we realized that we could start raising money for multiple nonprofits and we could start supporting multiple causes with the charity battle. As a device to do that, we started our own it’s called wild green future. And every year now the charity battle we send, we partner with a bunch of other charities.

[00:45:37] This year we had three last year, we had two and we’ll raise money for basically whatever they need. they need staff, if they need a new boat was something that someone asked us for this year. If they need money to fund like Brazil nut tree germination program or a muscle introduction program, whatever it is we’ll build that into our goals and raise money for them through this charity.

[00:46:01] Michael Hawk: Yeah. That’s and it just ended, I think, for this year. So it typically runs what like November.

[00:46:07] Rhett Barker: Yeah it varies a little bit based on our availability, because it’s a very intense experience from the moderating side to run, especially with having to, so people create gangs throughout the battle and we have to keep making new stickers for them, which takes time and launching them.

[00:46:25] So we plan it based around when we’re free and it’s always either in October, November, or December. We’re actually, we did it for two weeks. The last few years. We’re actually going to do it for just one hectic week this year. I think, and I don’t expect that to actually hurt the fundraiser at all, but it’ll keep the hype up for the entire time.

[00:46:45] Curtis Sarkin: If I get my might increase the funding because people get tired of trends, but even if it’s far out amazing, cause it basically means have a shelf life of three to five days.

[00:46:55] Michael Hawk: It’s a lot of fun, to observe at least from my opinion, because like with all the gang memes you were talking about, you see that same dynamic sort of, sprout up in all these different ways. I didn’t look before this recording to see how many different gangs you had as part of this fundraiser this year.

[00:47:12] It maybe would have had to have been at least 20

[00:47:15] Curtis Sarkin: 18, 18.

[00:47:16] Michael Hawk: Yeah.

[00:47:17] Curtis Sarkin: And uh, we had to limit it this time because I think we had 110 gangs last year and ended up being a slightly chaotic as far as the sticker design and sticker mailings.

[00:47:28] Rhett Barker: So last year because of the pandemic, I had to mail all the stickers, basically on my own. And we had 21,000 stickers worth of donations from that year. So personally I mailed about 21,000 stickers across, all the people who donated and that, that took a lot of work.

[00:47:48] So we part of it was that when you have a lot of gangs, a lot of them only sold a couple stickers or a lot, a lot of people only donated for that gang a few times. And that would in a weird way, it would like exponentially increase the difficulty of mailing them. Cause like the combinations would be, would take a long time to do.

[00:48:05] So we lowered the total number of gangs this year.

[00:48:07] Curtis Sarkin: Yeah, it’s still doubled our, charity income.

[00:48:11] Rhett Barker: More than doubled. Yeah. More than doubled it. We raised about is in the 70,000 range in 2020s charity battle. And it was it was well over $160,000.

[00:48:23] Michael Hawk: That’s amazing.

[00:48:25] Curtis Sarkin: Yeah our first year, w didn’t even come to two grand, but we were getting incredibly pleased at the time that was before we were an official, non-profit just raising directly for the tortoise preserve in Florida. But , that was our first of four fundraisers. So we’re extremely excited to to put this money towards some amazing causes and to see what we’re capable of in years to come.

[00:48:48] Michael Hawk: before we wrap up today do you have any other projects or anything else, any other online presences that you want to promote or point.

[00:48:58] Rhett Barker: Oh, I’d like to plug the podcast. So we have a podcast called wild green streams for ecological fiends. I think if you type in Wellgreen streams into your podcast app, it’ll probably come up. And on that podcast, Curtis me and, several other of the mods basically we hang out with an interesting person, whether they’re a, and like a web comic artist or a scientist, or, some kind of online creator or conservationist.

[00:49:23] And we talk about wildlife and we talk about, what they do. And, sometimes we share funny things. It’s just it’s a pretty chill 30 minutes.

[00:49:31] Curtis Sarkin: We all learn something new in one way or another. I hope you will as well.

[00:49:36] Michael Hawk: Cool. Yeah. I’ll I’ll keep an eye out for when you said that you’re going to relaunch that this.

[00:49:40] Rhett Barker: So it’s online now that you can go listen to it, but we’re going to start releasing episodes again a few months from now. We’re prerecording a bunch of them right now.

[00:49:49] Michael Hawk: I’ll be sure to to cross promote as best I can when those new episodes start to come out.

[00:49:55] Curtis Sarkin: Awesome. Wait, we call it a, we call it cross

[00:49:57] Michael Hawk: Yeah. Yeah. That’s better. Anything else you’d like to say then before we close it out?

[00:50:02] Curtis Sarkin: Thanks for having us on this was cool. Always a fun to talk about our work and glad you uh, chose non-traditional guests because it’s cool to see people treating online communities and internet pop culture as these. Important things and not just jokes. The jokes are great.

[00:50:21] Don’t get me wrong. But the potential of means is just, I feel like we’re just scratching the surface right now. And it’s people are still trying to find that sweet spot between being advertising and spammy with it in ways that are backfiring, like brand Twitter, to some extent, and then just organically going with the flow of what a, what people actually want to get out of memes in ways that are making a cool impact.

[00:50:45] Rhett Barker: I think on that note, that humor is a door. If you’re trying to communicate something to people especially in wildlife, I think a lot of, and this is said lovingly, I think a lot of wildlife and conservation media is a little bit preachy and a little bit doom and gloom. And I think that has this effective to an extent, it’s gotten us this far, but it’s not enough.

[00:51:06] And we need to try a lot of other strategies to reach more people and to effectively conserve our natural resources and, become sustainable on this planet. And I think that having a lighthearted and silly conversations and making things and, participating in a community as you go is one of the best ways I can think of to do that.

[00:51:28] Michael Hawk: Yeah, I love it. I love the topic. I love what you’re doing. It’s a little corner of the internet that’s safe and fun to go to and you walk away with a new appreciation for ecology, for wildlife. And this is also the space that I’m really focusing on as well. Like Trying to find new ways, better ways to connect with people and get people to care about some of these things.

[00:51:48] So awesome work. And I’ve really enjoyed the conversation today. Thank you so much for making the time. I know you’re both incredibly busy thanks again.

[00:51:57] Rhett Barker: Thanks for having us on Michael.

[00:51:59] Curtis Sarkin: Yeah, this is a lot of fun. Thanks, Michael.


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