And behind that looms an even larger mystery: What, exactly, is celebrity in 2016?
First, though, to Facebook. Bellassai is leaving his old, official Facebook page, “Whine About It,” in BuzzFeed’s hands. That page is a behemoth, with more than 1.5 million fans. (For reference, The Atlantic’s official Facebook page has only 1.3 million.)
On Tuesday, Bellassai created a new Facebook page and asked fans to follow him there. In the six days it’s been live, his new page accumulated almost 215,000 likes.
That’s an impressive number, and it is, in a roundabout way, a good sign for the rest of the Internet.
The original “Whine About It” Facebook page was successful for three reasons. The first is that Bellassai is good at making funny videos. The second is that the all-powerful Facebook algorithm—which determines where a vast amount of online attention is directed—has looked sunnily on native video for the last year or so. For reasons algorithmic or organic, video uploaded to Facebook does significantly better than a YouTube link. The third reason is that BuzzFeed invested in “Whine About It” in particular. The company put Bellassai on its Snapchat and Instagram; it bought ads on people’s News Feeds; and it shared “Whine About It” posts from its main Facebook page (which has, of this writing, more than 6 million likes).
Bellassai now looks like he’s on his way to reclaiming that 1.5-million-person audience with his new page. If he manages it, it suggests a number of good things: all of them vaguely reassuring for Internet content creators. It suggests that when people and brands appear in users’s Facebook feeds, users see them as more than content briefly flickering in front of their eyes. It suggests that when people like someone’s Facebook page, they actually like that person. And above all, it suggests that someone whose fame starts on Facebook isn’t limited to that platform.
Which, in turn, has consequences for BuzzFeed—both good and bad. If BuzzFeed can mint stars and then release them into the wider culture, it makes the company into a new kind of entertainment giant. But it also means that BuzzFeed can build its employees up so much that they will eventually leave—or, at least, be able to bargain with it.
Both Bellassai and a BuzzFeed spokeswoman spoke amicably about their separation. It sounds like Bellassai simply wanted a different kind of popular profile than BuzzFeed could offer him right now.
And more to the point, Bellassai never thought he would retain control of the “Whine About It” page. “In my case, it was always understood that I wouldn’t hold onto the Whine About It page,” he told me in an email. “That page was started as a BuzzFeed project, and BuzzFeed obviously put a ton of resources into creating Whine About It and growing that page, so the understanding from the beginning was that they would grow it, but it would remain a BuzzFeed property.”