The Clinton presidential campaign recently released an article on Hillary Clinton’s website discussing the danger of seemingly harmless memes and their ties to white supremacy. The article follows an FAQ by one of the campaign’s senior strategists, who had to answer questions such as “Why is there a frog standing directly behind Trump?” The strategist makes a claim that at first seems completely unrelated to the meme debacle but comes full circle as her argument develops, enlightening the reader of the damage that can be caused by one seemingly harmless picture. Although memes are meant to simply be lighthearted internet jokes, they can easily warp sensitive topics into things that are, more often than not, actually offensive.
Most young adults who spend their time on social media have seen memes before. Studies show that the memes most likely to be shared are those that are easy to replicate, whether because they answer popular questions or correspond to popular trends. Based on this knowledge, it is safe to assume that the most popular memes are inspired by the most popular topics on the internet. With the likes of Donald Trump infiltrating the media, the public no longer has control over their own exposure to the controversial messages spouted by Trump and other public figures. Trump’s outrageous and, at most times, incorrect claims exterminate the relatability meant to be brought by memes altogether and instead create a harmful atmosphere on popular social media websites.
Memes also have a strong internet presence after tragic events occur, spawning devious jokes around subjects not to be taken lightly. Take the Cincinnati Zoo’s late gorilla, Harambe, for example. Like the birth of most memes, Harambe was, at first, innocent; several celebrities mourned for his lost life which led to a spike in Harambe’s popularity. Harambe soon became the sickening punchline of some racist antics, such as images of Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones, who is African-American, photoshopped onto Harambe’s body. He is now yet another victim fallen prey to the memosphere. Although Harambe may have initially carried a rather important message on animal mistreatment in captivity, his memory will now forever be tainted with his involvement in the spewing of unnecessary bigotry towards people like Jones.
Memes have changed the way we communicate with one another — it’s hard to google any popular trend without seeing at least one photoshopped picture of an animal or presidential candidate. While we may be laughing at the current state memes have placed our most important communication tool in, we can’t keep pretending that this joke is funny forever, and we definitely can’t keep ignoring when the joke goes too far.
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