Facebook, memes, and societal behavior

Posted by Jon:

Facebook and memes create and interface for us to experience the world in a new way. Political views, ideologies, and ideas are laid out to the public forum in a way that we can both learn and choose to participate, albeit it in a shallower context. In the realm of the Internet, memes have become a dominating form of expression for the internet savvy. They reflect the nature of a typical internet user’s attention span: short, sweet, and to the point. The direct nature of memes generally make them great for quick one-liner reference humor that a general group of people can relate to. In video form, they generally don’t run longer than 3 minutes, and if they are longer, it is usually specific clips that are referenced and popularized.

Among the diehard users of the internet, it is generally accepted that most ideas that evolve into memes are developed within the dark dungeons of 4chan (Don’t go there; it is one of the most vile places on the internet). From there, the ideas are leaked to other slightly more public-friendly websites like reddit and tumblr, and from there to the general public via Facebook and Twitter. It is generally through Facebook that the general mass becomes aware of a given memetic idea.

The rising popularity in social media has created many behavioral trends in today’s society, as the spreading of ideas has been made easier by websites like Facebook and Twitter. The importance of these websites to some people have even grown to a very serious personal scope for some. For example, when on the dating/relationship scene, some people do not fully consider themselves a couple until they have become “Facebook official”. I would speculate that this is due to the idea of where the “public eye” lives. In the past, to consider yourselves an official couple, it only required mutual agreement, and presenting yourself to friends and family as a couple whenever asked. Now, the idea of the “public eye” is becoming more and more virtual: when a couple considers themselves together, they need only change a status on their profile, and all of their friends and family will know immediately of their new found relationship. Some people may find that Facebook is an even stronger personal interface to the public for them individually, and would then require their relationship to be “Facebook official” in order to feel that the status is validated to the public. Similar Facebook habits are also given and interesting level of importance, as parodied by this Condescending Wonka meme: http://i.imgur.com/fEEjS.jpg

A newer spread of memes is taking this social importance to heart in order to spread political, religious, and other ideologies. Maintaining the “short, sweet, and to the point” nature of memes, these new memes take current events and simplify them into one to three lines of text in order to explain a perspective. For example, Here is aKeeping this condensed and simplified format often makes an idea more palatable to a wide audience in order to make a point, but is also short enough to be quickly ignored as the reader moves to the next boxes of text. I would argue, however, that the sheer mass of these little blurbs could eventually make an impact in an individual. Take it as a “pennies add up” concept. As the consumer of media is exposed to more bite-sized chunks of information on a topic, they get more and more familiar with the idea. For example, in recent media, a big deal has been made from North Carolina passing Amendment 1 (a state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage), from which many of these memes have been made and circulated in response:

http://www.quickmeme.com/meme/3p7r0x/ (uses a character from Tv show Futurama, based on a quote where he says “Your music is bad, and you should feel bad” to show an opposing opinion to NC)

http://i.imgur.com/ys1sJ.jpg (an image that relates the gay marriage topic to the “separate but equal” concept of the civil rights movement)

http://media-cache0.pinterest.com/upload/147211481539969975_FL1R8ig0_c.jpg (uses the educational e-card meme to assert immorality of “justified” oppression)

Through the interface of sites like Reddit and Facebook, memes have taken a heavy role in participatory culture. Memes are often user-generated, user-spread content, even though over 80% of those viewing the content are solely “lurkers”, meaning they view the content, but don’t generally participate in sharing the content or actively creating new content. With the added importance of the Facebook interface to some individuals, this could be a meaningful place for them to share their ideas and opinions through memes. Though this participation is not as strong on a virtual interface as it would be with legitimate, in-person activism (like boycotts, sit-ins, etc…), it does serve an important place in raising and spreading awareness to an idea.

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