Samantha Speiller, of Round Rock, Texas, started watching Bluey with her young daughter in the early months of the pandemic. Two years later, by then a dedicated fan of the wise and beloved Australian cartoon, she joined a Facebook group for Bluey memes. Here was Bluey, the six-year-old dog and title character, looking exasperated and saying, “But I don’t want a life lesson! I just want an ice cream!” And there was Bandit, her beleaguered father-dog, drinking coffee at a table with a sign that reads, Bluey is a show for adults, disguised as a kid’s show. Change my mind. Speiller was not herself an active poster in the group, and saw only the memes from other people that happened to pop up in her News Feed.
But at some point this past spring, Speiller noticed that the Facebook group, called “Bluey Memes💙,” had taken on a different character. At first the change was subtle—a slow drift into the culture wars. One post from April shows Bluey at the park with Bandit, who is pointing out of frame and saying, “Look at these butthurt groomers.” Another meme from May had a friend of Bluey’s thinking, “It’s okay to be white.” By then, the drift had become a rush: Fat-shaming Bluey memes had appeared, alongside anti-nose-ring memes, homophobic memes, Roe-reversal memes, and many more. By August, Speiller felt that she’d seen enough. “It was the picture of Bandit in the MAGA hat that made me quit,” she told me.
Facebook has scores of Bluey groups. Some are for discussing episodes or sharing tips on where to find the latest merch and toys. “Bandits: The Bluey Group for Dads” hosts 78,000 members of a special fathers’ fandom for the show. “Adult Bluey Fans” comprises about 250,000 members, some of whom are childless. But among the largest of them all is “Bluey Memes💙,” a community of more than 300,000 Facebook users that has in recent months become a partisan free-for-all.
“I joined because, at first, it seemed like a fairly fun, wholesome group,” Lyra Jones, a 31-year-old parent from Green Bay, Wisconsin, told me. “Honestly, some of the memes and comments felt a little off sometimes, but there was nothing that really warned about how bad it was about to get.” Sometime last year, Jones, who uses they/them pronouns, started seeing memes and comments that were a lot off. But the turning point arrived, they said, when transphobic memes began to multiply. These days, such posts are easy to find on the group’s feed: A post from last month, for example, shows a dancing Bandit with the caption, “I was once a man trapped in a woman’s body … then I was born.”
When online groups reach a certain size, splintering is common—factions are created by dissidents who don’t like the way the mother ship is being run. Last year, Jones started their own Bluey-meme group, self-identified as a “leftist” community where bigotry would be against the rules but “making fun of bigots” would be tolerated. (One post in the new group shows a Bluey character with laser eyes and says, “Respect my trans friends pronouns… Or I’m gonna make your pronouns was/were.”) Jones said they started tagging the new group into comments on the main “Bluey Memes💙” group, especially on anti-trans and other right-wing posts, until eventually, last fall, they were banned.
The inter-Bluey-meme-group conflict has only deepened since. The admin of a popular Facebook page called “Every Bluey Frame In Order” put out an edict in early August: “just know if I find out you’re in the dumbass maga Bluey group, I’m banning you.” (Most users who responded to that post were nonplussed. “I’m sorry, there’s a *what* Bluey group?” one asked.) In the meantime, the website associated with that page began to screen its own potential users with the question “What gender are trans women?” Jones’s group asks prospective members how many genders there are, and also checks how they would fill in the phrase “____ lives matter.” Over at the “Bluey Memes💙” group, members have taken to complaining about their treatment by these other groups, and posting screenshots of their disputes with moderators.
Source: Facebook / Bluey Memes💙
Even now, the large majority of posts on “Bluey Memes💙” are apolitical, making reference to nonincendiary topics such as professional sports, Australian celebrities, and video-game consoles. Some current members seem aggrieved by the aggressive sloganeering in the remainder. “Why is this page becoming so political?” one commenter asked on a post about Bandit’s ability as a professional archeologist to distinguish between male and female bodies. “Can admins step in and nip this stuff in the bud or something? I’m just here for fun and funny bluey memes man.”
But the admins are not stepping in. In fact, the creator and sole moderator of “Bluey Memes💙,” Rachel Homolak, has posted anti-trans memes and political content herself. A parent from St. Charles, Missouri, Homolak created the group in 2021, and told me she saw its membership grow to 200,000 within a year. In an interview conducted via Facebook Messenger (which she later screenshotted and posted to the group), she said that she aimed to be inclusive from the start, and that she has, at times, “approved literally every type of meme including paganism, witchcraft, church of Satan, American politics, Australian politics.” Her overriding principle of moderation is simple, she said: “I am a firm believer in the first amendment so I don’t censor anyone unless it’s a call to violence like telling someone to unalive themselves. People can bicker and argue as much as they’d like. It’s the internet and I’m not their mommy.”
Homolak acknowledged that the group has evolved to feature more right-leaning content over time. “Once word got out on social media that I allowed Conservative and Christian content in my group, people joined in droves and liberals left in droves (of course complaining first),” she told me. “It all happened organically. Conservative content increased and I approved it. It’s not my fault leftists don’t make memes.” She stopped approving the left-leaning posts that did show up, she said, because “leftists are so nasty on the internet,” and because most of them were dishonest. “You can’t just make up fever fantasy dreams about Trump, put it in meme form and expect me to approve it. Lol!” In a follow-up interview, also conducted via Messenger, she told me that she would ban anyone who criticizes the organization Gays Against Groomers or the surprise-hit movie Sound of Freedom, which tells the real-life story of a man who started a controversial anti-child-sex-trafficking organization.
Former members say that the right-wing messaging really started ramping up last winter and spring, peaking at a moment that coincided with Homolak’s rise as a public figure in local conservative politics. On May 5, 2023, she abruptly posted a series of memes to the group, each one showing Bluey’s sister, Bingo, at the top of a staircase holding a feather and making an announcement—variously directed at “drag queens,” “leftist psychos,” and “climate change idiot believers,” among other groups—that “YOU HAVE NO POWER HERE!!!” A few weeks later, Homolak visited her local public library and saw, as she described it, a male librarian wearing makeup. She led a protest outside of the library, and over the summer spoke about the issue at multiple county-council and library-board meetings, including one where she dressed up in a costume of the librarian. The spectacle was covered by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Homolak appeared on conservative talk-radio shows to discuss her activism.
Homolak believes that Facebook has removed posts related to trans issues from her group and shadowbanned it for political reasons. “I went from getting on average 3000 new members a day to now 25 if I’m lucky,” she told me. (A Meta spokesperson declined to comment on the group’s status or on whether actions have been taken to limit its reach.) I asked if she’d consider a ban on political posts if that was the only way to prevent the entire group from getting shut down. “Nope 😎 1A all the way, baby,” she said. “Standing for freedom always comes first. You should try it! Highly recommended!”
That a Facebook group of 300,000 people has succumbed to mod drama—a common occurrence online in which the way a group is being run comes to dominate discussion—shouldn’t be surprising. Facebook is not exactly known for breeding comity, and large groups of people online are never really placid. But the rifts that are forming among Bluey fans are, if not unusual, at least ironic. The show itself is focused on social-emotional learning, as well as on teaching kids how to handle life’s unpleasant moments with grace and navigate challenging interactions with other people.
That’s one reason I watch the show with my own kids: Bluey isn’t a political show at all. It’s a cartoon about the boring, beautiful moments of regular family life, such as waiting outside a restaurant for takeout or playing in the backyard. How could this show, of all the shows in the world, have become the source of so much ugliness? I asked Homolak if she was surprised by this herself. “Bluey is SUPER relatable because it’s genuine,” she told me. “It’s real life. Politics is real life. It’s no wonder why they collide.”