Over the past decade, with the rise of social media, memes have also steadily gained popularity. Lifewire defines a meme as “a virally transmitted photograph that is embellished with text that pokes fun at a cultural symbol or social idea.” But are memes as simple as that? Or do they hold a larger meaning or purpose?
I believe that memes hold the ability to spread (potentially dangerous or offensive) thoughts and opinions at a rapid rate in an innocent manner. This can be seen in the Pepe the Frog meme, which began as a harmless character in a comic but was quickly turned into a viral symbol for extremist anti-semetic and white supremacy groups. At first, Twitter users added offensive language to the meme. As time went on, even a frog emoji could be used to symbolize a person in an extremist group or extremist thoughts and opinions.
— 11Alive News (@11AliveNews) September 29, 2016
Adversely, memes can spread a serious and important message in a lighthearted, playful manner. Recently, following the rise of young climate activist Greta Thunberg, there has been a drastic increase in memes bringing awareness to climate change and the warming ozone layer. Even though no physical action has been taken directly because of the spread of these memes, they have started a conversation about a topic that desperately needs to be addressed.
— Climate Change Memes (@climatememes) June 11, 2015
These examples show that memes can be used in both negative and positive ways—but are more powerful than we might initially think.