The word meme had existed before the internet did, so it meant a very different thing than it does now. The word meme originated in the seminal Richard Dawkins book, The Selfish Gene, a defining text on evolution. It initially referred to memes as ideas and styles that spread from person to person in a culture or civilization as a precept for genetic mutations in a species. Moreover, the meaning of memes has undergone one hell of a transformation! They are now the benchmark of the internet’s evolution, as well as equalling somewhat of a revolution in communicating too. A meme allows people to express a point or information – more often than not, this information is comedic in tone – spreading laughs and dropped jaws virally across the internet waves and into the palm of a hand.
However, with internet memes come internet feels, and while it is all too easy for people to post thoughtlessly from a keyboard or screen, at the same time, it is also all too easy for people to take offence. Outrage is not easily understood online and the efforts of those to stem what is often somewhat edgy humor never actually go across well and when the most of the planet can access the internet pretty fast, someone is bound to take issue with some things that get posted. Everyone gets caught up in the debate about when online content crosses the line and with dank memes everywhere, is there even a line at all?
20. Challenger Explosion Instead Of Fireworks On 4th Of July
This meme shows how celebrating the Fourth of July can mix with one of America’s greatest tragedies, and using an image of the latter turns a source of celebration into a cause for condemnation. Clothing brand American Apparel supposedly had a non-American post a meme of what they thought was a single explosion of a firework, for the brand’s nod towards Independence Day. Someone failed to remain around to check that this meme was appropriate and instead of checking, let it go live. It did not take too long for people online to notice that this was an image of the Challenger Space Shuttle exploding in 1986 and had nothing to do with American Independence at all. Whether people thought American Apparel posted a joke in poor taste or what, it got enough people annoyed at the company to give the clothing brand a dressing down. Eventually, American Apparel issued an apology, yet they still received negative comments for this total lack of awareness.
19. Confession Meme
Who’d have thought that a good way to alleviate the conscience and to admit to wrongdoing would come in meme form? Anonymity on the internet is not absolute, so even if this user was not confessing out of guilt and out of some method of psychopathic behavior, then this Redditor forgot – to his error – that the internet is the elephant of technology, it never forgets! So when a Redditor with the handle Narrato, posted a meme on his Reddit feed that contained an image of a forlorn looking black bear that read: “My sister had an abusive, meth addict boyfriend. I killed him with his own drugs while he was unconscious and they ruled it as an overdose.” Many people took it seriously and doxxed Narrato, which prompted an FBI investigation that found the meme false.
18. Wendy’s Tweet
Wendy’s is widely known for throwing some shade on Twitter, often at its fast food rivals, yet social media can be a very unforgiving place. So even one slip up results in harsh criticism coming from all sides, which only gets magnified off the scale when the tweet in question originates from a huge corporation. Recently, anything that involves Pepe the Frog causes an uproar, so when Wendy’s tweeted something linked to Pepe the Frog, the chaos unleashed was like an earthquake of social media backlash. The image depicted Pepe wearing a red wig, a hair style to emulate the Wendy’s logo, in reply to user @MrRespek. Although Wendy’s quickly discovered that the Anti-Defamation League declared Pepe a hate symbol deleted the tweet. Although not before others retweeted the image.
17. Curt Schilling
Curt Schilling, a former baseball pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies, Arizona Diamondbacks and Boston Red Sox, as well as a video game developer, pitched a lot of trouble last year. He is also an outspoken Conservative, which is bound to strike out against the growing hubbub surrounding trans people using restrooms that gained attention in 2016. In April last year, Schilling pitched his thoughts on transgender bathrooms by posting a meme on Facebook and as a man in the public eye on one of America’s biggest sports networks, talking about one of America’s most major sports, the transphobic image inevitably got noticed. The meme depicted an overweight crossdressing man in skimpy clothes leaving little to the imagination, with a rather offensive quip seemingly taking a swipe at what Conservatives deem as being too tolerant. Social media has more eyes than people seem to realize and the backlash lost Schilling his job at ESPN though he got swiftly swooped up by Breitbart.
16. Facebook Made Burger King Stop Their Campaign
It seems like people would go to extreme lengths for a free burger, even risk alienating friends, what’s more, Burger King knew this and ruthlessly exploited it! Burger King’s campaign, not so subtly titled “Whopper Sacrifice,” challenged Facebook fans to unfriend 10 of their friends on the social network. For doing so, Burger King would send that person a coupon for a free Whopper at Burger King. There was a catch; however, Burger King would then contact those ten people a person unfriended with a message telling them that a friend unfriended them because of a burger. Not only would this risk many friendships if people took issue with this, some people unfriending their peers on Facebook – nearly 250,000 in a matter of days – caused Facebook to take notice of the sudden drop and intervene. As a result, Facebook’s involvement caused Burger King to end the campaign, and no one got any burgers… want any fries with that burn?
15. Pepe The Frog
Pepe existed long before internet memes did, it originated in a comic, called Boy’s Club #1, created in 2005 by Matt Furie. Something that was initially an innocent cartoon frog remained that way, until last year’s Presidential Election and the rise of the Alt-Right. Pepe’s appropriation by the Alt-Right have led to many associating Pepe with racism, anti-Semitism and memes are related to supporting Trump at the very least cause quite a stir on social media and platforms such as 4Chan. Trolling via Pepe has led to the creation of fictional nations such as Kekistan, reacting to the Normies. Figures such as Milo Yiannopolous also became a figurehead of this movement, subjected to adulation and hatred in equal measure. The innocence of Pepe the Frog has been abused to such an extent that its creator, Matt Furie has stopped creating the animated character, disassociating himself with it.
14. Tag A Mate
These memes are hugely popular on Facebook and often feature a person that is not conventionally attractive. Their picture is accompanied by some text that is usually an insult or reference to the individual’s lack of beauty and the meme is prefixed with ‘tag a mate’. Tag a mate refers to a friend that would have sex with the person shown in the picture. Recently, a woman called Lizzie Velasquez, once dubbed the world’s ugliest woman, fell victim to this meme trend. Velasquez has Marfan Syndrome, meaning her body does not retain any fat. She shared the offensive meme to her 130,000 Facebook followers, slamming it for making a cruel joke out of her condition that probably has caused her a lot of pain distress. So the joke pretty much backfired, showing how the person pictured in a meme has feelings and that jokes can get pretty, well, ugly!
Harambe was a gorilla in Cincinnati Zoo, he was shot by zookeepers and killed after a three-year-old boy managed to climb into his enclosure. Harambe seized the kid and began pulling him around until zookeepers had to intervene and shoot the gorilla, killing him. A backlash from animal rights groups arose from the shooting of Harambe and eventually, as has been the case since humans developed a gallows humor, a Twitter user named @SexualJumanji tweeted a selfie of himself with a gun captioned with: “We comin with them d*cks out for Harambe!” Comedian Brian Wardell Tweeted: “d*cks out for Harambe.” Soon after, Wardell and actor, Danny Trejo uploaded a video on Vine saying: “D*cks out for Harambe!” The Vine got millions of loops but received backlash when people started implying the D*cks out for Harambe memes had racist undertones.
Ten years ago, Donald Trump participated in a match at WrestleMania called “Battle of the Billionaires,” where his feud with WWE CEO Vince McMahon culminated. At one point in the match, Trump clotheslines McMahon and repeatedly punches the wrestling tycoon. Little did everyone know that a decade later Trump would be in the White House, locked in a war with the mainstream media, especially CNN. The Seattle-based news giant was branded Fake News by the President and he upped his assault when he tweeted a GIF of Battle of the Billionaires and his clotheslining of McMahon, with the CNN logo replacing McMahon’s face. Trump’s Tweet sent shockwaves around the media, resulting in CNN even tracking the creator of the GIF down, a Reddit user by the name “HanA**holeSolo”. His Reddit page was alleged to contain racist and anti-Semitic content, and CNN forced an apology out of the user and claimed that they had his identity and could reveal it if situations change.
11. Transphobic Garlic Bread
Anyone remotely acquainted with college campuses or Tumblr in recent years will know that the idea of gender has suddenly become endlessly complicated after thousands of years of, well, not being complicated. The notion of gender being nothing more than a social construct is so contentious nowadays that nothing is safe from the gender debate, not even the almost universally adored snack, garlic bread. The Garlic Bread Memes Page on Facebook boasts over 250,000 members and is home to numerous funny posts regarding garlic bread. Although one meme crossed the line in the eyes of many of the page’s followers when a fan posted: “If I had a slice of garlic bread for every existing gender:” above a plate with two slices of garlic bread on it. Some people took offence to this meme, deeming it transphobic and contributing to the erasure of gender non-conforming and nonbinary people. Luckily, the image showed plain garlic bread, imagine the furore if cheese garlic bread made the meme?
10. Cop’s Racist Meme
As if there wasn’t a big enough problem in America with police and the African-American community, without a police officer deliberately fanning the flames of tension in the USA. One extremely foolish police officer in Layton, Utah posted a meme depicting an ancient Egyptian circumcision on a Massachusetts pastor’s Facebook post about Bill Cosby. It was a racist jibe about the meme titled “We Was Kings” about the African legacy of empires throughout history, such as the Pharaohs of Egypt. The police officer posted a picture that ridiculed African history, by posting “We Wuz Kangz. No. You were genital washers” over the image of ancient Egyptian circumcision. Pastor Swan posted a picture of the cop who’d posted the image, yet the officer obviously realized his mistake and resigned his post the day after he posted the meme.
9. Too Close A Shave
What shatters the glass ceiling? Certainly not being compared to a man that’s for sure, surely the message of feminism is that everyone is recognized for his or her individual merits and not compared to one another? Bic razors obviously didn’t get that memo, however, and thought telling women that acting like men seemed a good way to go. Bic South Africa dropped this ball big time and did it by releasing this image on the South Africa Women’s Day holiday, no less. What’s worse is that Bic released a statement saying: “We can assure you that we meant it in the most empowering way possible and in no way derogatory towards women.” Okay then, but it still implies that women have to behave like men to get ahead, and it is a battle of the sexes that we have all grown out of, surely? Unless people want to start comparing shaving their faces to shaving their legs?
8. Vera Bradley
This meme takes a swipe at both sexes, and even though the best fashion never goes out of style, plenty of attitudes remain out of date for decades. However, although the little black dress and jeans and a white tee stay stylish, stereotypes from the 1950s are not, and neither is using them in advertising campaigns. Fashion brand Vera Bradley seemed to fall prey to this blunder when they posted this meme online, which read: “Being able to hang with the boys and still treated like a lady”. The meme assumes that not only is hanging around with boys something that ladies should be ashamed of; it also insinuates that boys cannot control themselves around women. Vera Bradley launched a Twitter hashtag with this campaign, #itsgoodtobeagirl, nothing wrong with that sentiment, although some of the tweets that accompanied hashtag did raise some eyebrows. One in particular response to #itsgoodtobeagirl – featured on a subway ad – read: “That moment when a gentleman offers you his seat,” rather than being noted for chivalry; instead, the ads got negative feedback for taking gender roles back to a more negative time.
7. Promoting The Competition
London is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations and why wouldn’t be? The UK’s capital is a vibrant, cosmopolitan metropolis, one of the world’s oldest and biggest settlements, where the ancient rests easily beside the modern. So it makes sense for one of the UK’s major airlines to promote the capital of their nation. What doesn’t make sense is to share a meme of their rival that does all of the advertising work for them, or does it? British Airways shared an image of a couple on a tour bus, crossing Westminster Bridge with the London Eye in the background, to encourage people to visit London. Seems pretty innocent, however, looking a little deeper it becomes obvious that British Airways has shared Virgin Airways social media post, so is getting some free advertising when Virgin did all of the work! Either a lazy way of publicity or an embarrassing blunder, either way, assume crash positions!
6. MLK Mistake
Civil Rights stay relevant in America to this day, so they always make great advertising and promotional material. For these reasons alone, it is essential that people or companies using this angle for ads or marketing get their material 100% correct; otherwise, they risk looking even more prejudiced than enlightened, because the mistake just appears incredibly ignorant, not to mention careless. So when a meme surfaced on Twitter, posted by the football team, the Seattle Seahawks of one of their players crying, next to a Martin Luther King Jr. quote, it may not have usually caused a stir. Although when this was tweeted by the team’s official feed to celebrate getting into the Super Bowl, on Martin Luther King Day no less, it caused outrage on Twitter. The Seattle Seahawks swiftly realized the mistake they had made, so they deleted the tweet and issued an apology.
5. Know Your Geography
It is always a good idea for companies to get into the spirit of Patriotism and nowhere is this felt better than when sport is concerned. While Delta Airlines cannot get blamed for jumping on the celebratory bandwagon when the USA wins an international soccer match, it does take responsibility for showing ignorance when it comes to geography. The American airline tweeted a meme to celebrate the USA’s 2-1 victory over African nation, Ghana and while the picture of the Statue of Liberty in America is correct, an image of a giraffe in Ghana is not. Giraffes are not native to Ghana, and although a giraffe is an African creature and admittedly, not many people are probably experts on how the nature of the continent is spread out, perhaps a meme that makes it obvious Ghana is referenced makes more sense?
4. Harvard Mexican Meme
Nothing is more offensive than racism, and even racist humor is very shaky ground to stand on, and people have lost jobs over what they stupidly thought would be received as a harmless joke. The following is a series of memes that appeared on a Facebook group chat between some prospective Harvard students that got them expelled from the prestigious college before they even began their studies there. The first combines a character from The Walking Dead and some tired Mexican stereotypes. Negan from The Walking Dead is an equal opportunities murderer and is willing to kill anyone for the slightest thing and his signature weapon, a baseball bat covered in razor wire, named Lucille, is brutal, to say the least. However, even a picture of this evil leader and arch villain from a post apocalyptic zombie show goes over the top, when racism comes into it.
3. Harvard Pokemon Meme
Pokemon is a top-rated cartoon series that both adults and kids alike love, gaining popularity from the 1990s through to today. Anyone who watches Pokemon knows that as fandoms go, Pokemon is pretty insane. The release of Pokemon Go caused this insanity to spread globally, with people hunting rare Pokemon in mobs more or less and its popularity didn’t just threaten to break the internet, but society as a whole! In this day and age, inevitably Pokemon will fall prey to memes, and it even failed to go unnoticed by the Harvard Facebook chat group called “General F*ck Ups”. The meme exploits an oddly timed still of perhaps the most famous Pokemon, Pikachu, lying down with something bulging from the blanket that looks suspiciously phallic. Such an image seems troubling enough, but with the caption of the meme added and posted on the group chat, it became even worse, and people quickly took offence the insensitive meme.
2. Harvard ISIS Meme
The Facebook Groups: “Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens” and “General F*ck Ups” was so full of racist, anti-Semitic and offensive memes that it resulted in not just one student banned from attending Harvard, but ten of them! Although supporting Islamic State is not a good thing, neither is spreading very offensive stereotypes about people from the Middle-East, especially doing so very publicly too. The meme in question makes light not only of the conflict in the Middle-East and the lives lost in Syria but made offensive remarks about children having sex with animals, as though implying such things are common in the Middle-East. The problem is that students at Harvard are supposed to be intelligent, one form of intelligence means do not generalize, and another, don’t do things that could ruin your life and career before they have begun!
1. Harvard Holocaust Meme
No offensive content is ever complete without some form of Antisemitism in there somewhere. And of course, the Harvard memes for h*rny bourgeois teens and General F*ck Ups Facebook group chats delivered on this dubious dishonor impeccably. It combines a sex joke with a Holocaust one, with the text of the meme surrounding a picture of an Orthodox Jew, so no minority or prejudice seemed to be spared from the dark humor of this group and their posts even made national news after spreading online. People often debate whether there exists a line in comedy to cross the line and the harm of sharing content online that everyone can see has drawbacks. These ten Harvard students experienced some of the consequences of sharing online and whether their expulsion was deserved, obviously got hotly debated too. Some may have thought the punishment too harsh and it is part of the fine line everyone has to navigate when we can spread something around the world at the touch of a button.
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