The coronavirus pandemic has forced millions of people around the world to stay at home, social-distancing and self-quarantining to curb the spread of the virus. Spending our days this way has inspired a huge uptick in online engagement — users are flocking to chatrooms and videoconferencing apps, trying to find digital replacements for physical human connection. That massive influx of social media activity has brought with it a deluge of misinformation and dangerous conspiracy theories.
But people are also pretending to be ants.
As of Friday, 1.7 million people have joined a Facebook Group called “A group where we all pretend to be ants in an ant colony" — which is exactly what it sounds like. (A quick aside: I’ve been following the growth of this group every week in my internet culture newsletter, Garbage Day.)
Though its membership is absolutely massive, the group is still technically private. BuzzFeed News joined the group on Friday and was auto-approved, but unable to immediately post content. According to an admin update from April 18, the group was too large to allow just anyone to post freely.
BuzzFeed News has reached out to several of the admins and moderators of the community for comment. We’ve also attempted to communicate with the colony-at-large, by commenting, “Hi there, I'm a reporter with BuzzFeed News. Please don't ban me for this! I'm trying to interview members of the colony for a story I'm working on. Feel free to message me! LIFT.”
A member of the group replied, "NO INTERVIEW. ONLY WORK FOR QUEEN."
The group has strict rules: “The first letters of the words ‘The Queen’ must always be capitalized,” and “This includes posts that look like drugs instead of sugar, no peeing or other gross toilet posts will be approved. We are a group of all ages, please be considerant [sic] when making your posts!” Users who break the rules are flooded with angry comments from members of the colony and are removed from the group.
The group’s popularity may be due to the fact that users are not allowed to talk about COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Rule eight of the user guidelines states, “No human politics. We’re all just here to have fun, please keep human politics and human religion out of the group. At this time, we are removing all posts and comments regarding Covid-19.”
One member of the group named Kádár Tamás, who joined it last week, when it was slightly smaller — only 1.3 million members — told BuzzFeed News that the size of the community was completely breaking his News Feed.
“The number of commenters and comments are batshit insane. I saw posts less than an hour old with almost 12,000 comments,” he said. “It's wreaking havoc on my Facebook timeline because if there is an ‘active’ post, people keep commenting and my timeline just scrolls by itself because Facebook is updating it in real time. Browsing the group presents the same issue.”
The popularity of “A group where we all pretend to be ants in an ant colony" has also inspired the moderators to start selling merch — sweaters and coffee mugs with words like “lift,” “work,” and “bite" written on them. According to the online store selling the merch-ant-dise, a portion of the proceeds will benefit a leading conservation organization chosen by the group.
Despite efforts to keep the group peaceful and focused on ant tasks, there has been a bit of turmoil recently — and efforts to claim new territory. There have been reports that members of “A group where we all pretend to be ants in an ant colony" are invading other Facebook Groups, flooding their comment sections with “invade,” “bite,” and “recruit.”
One Facebook Group hit particularly hard by the swarm of ant role-players turned invaders is called “The Road to El Dorado Goldposting” — a meme community based around the 2000 animated film of the same name. (The film has had a pretty extensive second life on platforms like Facebook and Tumblr, where fans laud its portrayal of what they believe to be a bisexual romance between the three main characters.)
According to the creator of the El Dorado group, Louie Brennan, the ant invasion was a total surprise.
"Almost every comment thread was filled with Ant related spam," he said. " I guess there’s a dedicated group about pretending to be Ants, and over there they told their members to go into other pages and continue the ant shenanigans."
Brennan said the ant attack started around April 19 and then largely died down after a few days. This week, members of the ants group moved on to other Facebook communities like “Marvel Shieldposting” — a meme community for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
“They're everywhere. They're inevitable,” wrote one user in the Marvel Shieldposting group, sharing a meme from the final scene of Avengers: Endgame, where all of the Avengers are summoned through portals to fight Thanos.
All the Avengers were labeled “ants.”