Merriam Webster dictionary defines a meme as an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture. And it’s no secret that they have become the unofficial fuel of the internet. From Bernie’s mittens and Pence’s fly to the year 2020 and the ship stuck in the Suez Canal, everything gets turned into a meme. And while they’re often fun and give us a much-needed cringe fix, sometimes they get a little harsh and cross the line.
But thanks to the Twitter page “Wholesome Memes” that aims at spreading positivity, we now have a feel good-only collection of some of the best memes out there. “We spread internet memes and images that promote health or well-being of body, mind and/or soul,” reads their description and their whopping 1.3M followers live by it.
And in a world savaged by the brutality of cold facts, sad news, and post-2020 blues that turned out to be no better than that cursed year itself, Wholesome Memes are more relevant than ever.
The internet can be a beautiful place, but it can also be a miserable, mean, fake place full of unwanted toxicity from people, directed at people, or it may come from the type of content itself. And memes, generally a fun meta way to communicate ideas online, can also sometimes turn sour.
For example, according to The Verge, a new study funded by the European Union aimed to determine how influential these memes truly were, particularly in swaying the election. In examining over 160 million images from Twitter, Reddit, 4chan’s Politically Incorrect board (/pol/), and Gab, gathered between July 2016 and July 2017, researchers found that the most popular racist memes existed on fringe political channels like /pol/ and r/The_Donald, with the latter being the most effective at spreading racist memes to both alt-right and traditional websites.
“These online pockets of hate speech help propagate alt-right memes by co-opting popular themes and images, like Pepe, for instance, by making racist rhetoric accessible and even fun. Memes were the Trojan horse that allowed the out-group to infiltrate and influence the in-group,” stated The Verge.
Fortunately, a big amount of viral images-turned-memes can open ways to positive, prosocial behaviors as well. But it vastly depends on the type of society we live in. “Memes are a reflection of our culture. They lead us to reexamine some of their own behavior,” suggests Rosanna Guadagno, a researcher at the Peace Innovation Lab at Stanford University.
Since memes touch upon a relatable emotion or moment, it’s possible that on some occasions, if used in a negative setting, it becomes a wake-up call. “If you think [the meme’s message] reflects poorly on the people who engage in that behavior, you’ll choose not to engage in that behavior,” Guadagno explains.
If we agree that memes are indeed the modern form of culture, we have to face the fact that this form is now inevitable. And it’s really upon us how we’d be using them and what ideas we’d be communicating with their help.
In such context, the Wholesome Memes page may seem more relevant than ever. The project serves as a great example of putting memes to a constructive use to share some much-needed feel-good emotion.