Societal Impacts of Memes

By Keyshla Guillon

The word meme, coined by Richard Dawkins, is described as the “small cultural units of transmission, analogous to genes, which are spread from person to person by copying or imitating information” (Shifman 2013:363). Therefore, the memes that go around are usually an imitation or a “remix” of an original meme. Memes are appropriated and used in different ways repeatedly because although people enjoy memes, they also find amusement in creating their own versions.

Given that memes are mostly made from inside jokes, individuals must be a part of the community sharing the meme to understand it. The way we interpret memes allow us to create our online communities based on our  common values, ideas and beliefs. People feel comfortable to post whatever they want because their posts are not censored.

Memes are also a way for politicians to advocate their campaign. People usually find memes to be funny. They are convenient because they are easy to make and cost little to nothing. It engages millennial and keeps them up to date with current politics. It also makes it easier for us to affiliate ourselves with politicians we agree or disagree with.

Millennial’s Used These Tactics  

Social Issues Within the New Presidency

The images below demonstrate ideologies reinforced through Trumps new presidency. Trump has been targeting immigrants. One of his goals was to create a wall and to deport all illegal immigrants. We are reinforcing his ideas by laughing at the problems he’s bringing toward marginalized groups instead of thinking of ways to dismantle the issue. Some of us may laugh in agreeance to how foolish Trump’s policies are, but this reaction shows no sensitivity or sympathize with others affected by these issues. 

“Remixed” Salt bae and turned it into their own meme. Even though it has no cation, people find it funny because they understand where the original meme came from. 

Although memes help tackle the social issues within our society, they also create some within digital culture. Individuals see memes and laugh at them without thinking about the impact it has on the individuals featured in the meme. It can have detrimental emotional and mental effects given that individuals can start having negative self perceptions.

Alex from Target: A photo was taken of him without his permission with the caption “YOOOOOO”. This was when #alexfromtarget started to become a trend. However, Alex felt like he couldn’t leave his house due to death threats. He experienced a ton of online abuse (people called him ugly, called him different names and even made up stories about him losing his job due to the attention he was getting). Furthermore, his parents had their bank details, phone records, and social security numbers leaked online (Larkin). They eventually had to get the police involved.

The picture above shows Millers promo picture for the TV show Prison Break while the picture on the right was a recent photo of him. Miller was suicidal during this period and claimed that “it hurt to breathe” when he first saw the photo. Nonetheless, he used the photo to make a positive influence on others by speaking about the struggles within his life and encouraged others facing similar struggles to seek help.

One solution to help dismantle the detrimental affects of memes is to apply “The right to be forgotten” which has been put in place in Europe and Argentina. It gives individuals the right to deindex pages, which hides their photos and makes it close to impossible to find. Thereby, although memes are great to look at for a laugh, it is important for individuals to be mindful about what they share and post.