Memes are the new political cartoon—every political issue has a meme. Some memes are funny because the ideas perpetuated are ridiculous, but these memes are not meant to create any kind of impact. Other memes may focus on important issues with an ironic or sarcastic perspective and can shine light on a modern issue. With the rise of these memes, it is essential for everyone to understand meme culture to avoid the perpetuation of memes as fake news.
At the height of the early 2000s, memes were the Philosoraptor that asked the deep, existential questions of the century, like “If the opposite of pro is con, is the opposite of progress, congress?” Memes were the troll face with the iconic “Problem?” slogan used to identify oneself as a troll. Memes were Doge saying “wow” because why not?
But today, memes are no longer just cartoon characters.
In 2017, every social media platform is plastered with memes. Although memes are still born overnight, shared globally, and buried to never be spoken about again, the way they impact individuals has changed.
“I’m sure I contribute to the younger demographics’ awareness of world events, particularly politics and disasters. I’m not going to try to argue that I’m doing the world a service, but I’m sure there’s some level of meaningful impact, albeit a small one,” said a regular reddit poster on r/politicalmemes, r/dankmemes, and r/dankchristianmemes, in an email.
Memes are now political and we, as citizens, have a responsibility to educate ourselves on what we see on the internet—meme or not.
Many long-term meme-posters believe that memes are meant to be ridiculous, light-hearted, and unimportant.
“If you’re taking memes at any value I think you’re too dumb to be on the internet,” Buttchocolate, a regular meme poster on Reddit and Facebook, said in an email.
“I don’t take memes seriously because I only internalize their format… I don’t bother fact checking them since I’ve forgotten the content by the time I scroll down,” carmenmistry, a regular meme poster on Twitter and Facebook, said in an email.
But as memes get mixed up with other content on social media, sometimes people don’t realize that what they’re seeing is a meme.
In early October 2017, a meme started circulating the internet with an image of Republican politician, Michele Bachmann, on what appears to be Fox News’ Fox and Friends and a text overlay.
“I’m not blaming the victims of the Las Vegas incident,” the meme quotes, “but if they were observing the Sabbath like Marcus and me at home reading their bibles, they would have been safe. I’m not blaming the victims, but it is their fault.”
The internet exploded.
Internet users harped on Bachmann and used the incident to discredit the Republican party and Trump.
However, Bachmann hadn’t recently been on Fox and Friends. In fact, she never said any of those things.
Memes are funny for two reasons: they are a new funny format, or they perpetuate an old format, like how Buttchocolate describes it: “beat the dead horse more and more and more.”
When people see a meme with a familiar layout, they react to it as though it is a continuation of the old meme.
A common meme is a political figure with a text overlay of their controversial or ridiculous quotes. The quotes are either obviously fake or assumed to be true. Naturally, when individuals saw the meme of Bachmann, they took the quote at face value because it wasn’t over-the-top.
Fact-checking site Snopes marked this incident as false, but as more political memes begin to surface, individuals will have to make more conscious decisions about what they should believe on the internet.
“I see memes becoming the primary online language to communicate,” carmenmistry says, “With people moving to try and add more memey words and phrases to English.”
There now exist a select amount of memes that are fake news. When individuals believe those memes, it doesn’t have anything to do with how smart they are. The best of us can misjudge what’s real and what’s not. Memes travel faster and are more widespread than the traditional form of news. They appear out of nowhere and rely on shock value.
Memes are now weapons.
As individuals, we need to stay educated about the issues that are important to us to protect ourselves and to protect our minds.