Memes have become a staple of the social media world, and on any given day you likely see hundreds while scrolling through your feed. Though they’ve been around for quite some time, in the last year they’ve picked up speed and are now become a real trend.
There are meme pods, meme groups, meme forums, meme generators, meme communities, meme lords. I’d argue meme lovers have become a tribe of their own and that the meme movement is a perfect example of the success that a social media tribe can bring to a movement.
What’s a meme?
Essentially, it’s a photo captioned with a funny phrase, saying, word that elicits what is happening in the photo. If made well, it becomes the talk of the Internet and will often represent how people feel about a various situation. Most of them are of someone making a funny face or interesting expression, captioned with something like “How I feel about Monday” or “My face when…” left for people to interpret on their own devices.
How do I create a meme?
There are a few simple ways to generate a meme, but the first step always involves finding a photo you believe to be “caption-able” and coming up with a clever line to post with it or add to it. Memes.com is an easy website generator that makes it possible to create your own without much editing expertise, but Photoshop is an option for those that are graphic design savvy. (For reference, the common “meme font” is Impact, in white with a 2 px black stroke on the outside.)
Memes are really created by the culture and online community, though they generally have a humorous element to them. A meme doesn’t have to go viral for it to be successful, it could simply be something you share within your friend group that promotes a lot of laughs.
What are meme communities and meme pods?
Meme pods are a twist on the “Instagram pods” that have also recently picked up steam. For more on those, check out my fellow classmate Tsciena’s recent blog about them! To skirt around the new Instagram algorithm, brands and pages have created groups of other pages to help give their content a boost, by liking and commenting on all of their photos quickly after they’re posted. Meme pods are arguably some of the most elite, and require what seems like an endless amount of free time to be involved for more than a day without being kicked out. The result of this is meme accounts have their content shown to a much larger percentage of their followers and therefore their posts are much more successful. If you’ve ever opened up Instagram, scrolled through your feed and saw nothing but memes, this phenomena is why. While pods don’t simply exist for meme accounts (beauty, fitness, mom bloggers, they all have their own elitist pods too), they have greatly contributed to the success of the meme trend.
Meme communities exist in many forms, on Reddit and other group forum or chatting applications, but they are commonly formed on Facebook as well. A large number of Universities, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc. have secret meme groups that contain thousands of students, alumni, and more, sharing memes that relate to their experiences as students at the school. Cities, sports teams and other clubs also have meme groups to share funny images about their experiences. Memes are becoming a way to bring people together and share humor on the Internet.
What about meme lords?
I know what you’re thinking: “Is that really a term?” Yes, it truly has become a thing of 2017 and it’s taking over social media. Meme lords are some of the top influencers of meme groups and pages on social media and are often admins of one of the groups. Influencers are incredibly important in today’s social media world, and meme lords are no different. For a brand that has a humorous voice looking to get a bit more attention, they could mean the difference between success and virality.
So, what’s the ethical dilemma?
Meme groups often have a very rough set of community guidelines, usually ending with “we can remove your memes or you from our group if you post anything offensive, illegal or not to our standards.” The problem often is, there is no official “community manager” handling the moderation of these groups as this is often left to the admins of the page, typically students, group members or just normal social media users themselves. The groups are loosely “run” by admins, but mostly just a space for people to share funny content.
Recently, a Harvard meme group titled “Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens,” (most college meme groups have the word “teens” or “teen” in their title, preventing them from being easily searched) ran into a severe ethical issue, leading to life altering actions for ten future students. The Washington Post shared that students then created a spinoff group where rated R memes were shared. The article said: “The students in the spinoff group exchanged memes and images ‘mocking sexual assault, the Holocaust and the deaths of children,’ sometimes directing jokes at specific ethnic or racial groups, the Crimson reported.” The end result? 10 students who participated in the chat had their acceptances to the university revoked, after the admissions committee found out about the matter.
Interestingly, meme groups are sometimes seen as recruiting tools for colleges, as stated in this Mic article: “For many prospective freshmen, they can visit the college with their parents or whatever, but the meme group is their first taste of college life.” Whether that will last is yet to be determined.
What once started as simple “college meme wars” has now become an ethical social media issue, and further depicts the need for laws and rules by social media platforms to monitor explicit, sexual, inappropriate, and illegal content. As of now, there are no real guidelines, and those running the groups are using their own personal judgement.
In a second Mic article, Will Ye, the founder of Duke Memes for Gothicc Teens, said his group’s policy is to remove offensive memes and block the poster. He says, “However, the judgment of how offensive a meme is and the removal of said memes is a common example of the dilemma in meme ethics.”
All-in-all, memes have become a huge social media trend and it’s clear that the communities need a bit more management and moderation. And meme ethics? It’s likely to be a term you hear more often as the trend continues to grow.
Originally published on Marisa Russell’s Syracuse blog.