A Good Rule of Thumb Before Posting Memes


The social media universe is unique in the history of man. It’s speed of light interactions and push-button communication influences the rules of interaction within that particular sphere of influence. How much this translates to actual person-person interaction is not yet clear. However, the innovations resulting from the advent of social media are unique to this particular time of human experience. In many cases, the norms for responding to and contending with these innovations have yet to evolve. Consequently, we see some interesting new techniques of communicating ideas, but also some discouraging trends associated with the digital anomie that we see on-line.

One of the most interesting innovations, I believe, is the creation of Memes. Memes are a great way of communicating ideas and feelings, often complex, with simple images and more or less clever passages. Memes often use humor, irony and satire to get the point across. Once a meme is introduced to the digital universe it can spread with nothing more than a mouse click and reach hundreds, even thousands of viewers is a very short time.

Memes are great! I’ve created a few myself (see the Mad Sociologist Twitter feed). However, like any new technology, the norms for dealing with memes are relatively non-existent. The other day, a friend of mine, an otherwise good person, posted this meme:

The kind of hate and venom that went into producing this meme is easy to spread with nothing more than the click of a mouse! Think before you click!
The kind of hate and venom that went into producing this meme is easy to spread with nothing more than the click of a mouse! Think before you click!

The meme itself clearly represents hatred and disdain for the value of human life, specifically the value of “others’ lives.” (My friend here is, unsurprisingly, white). If the image were real, it would be a depiction of murder, vehicular manslaughter. Would my friend really crush innocent people with a big rig? I’d like to think he wouldn’t. He strongly disagrees with the protests in Ferguson. That’s what he is trying to communicate. This image is eye catching and clearly communicates his disapproval, but in such a macabre way as to reflect a level of inhumanity that I happen to know that this person does not possess.

So why did he share such a grotesque image? What was he thinking? I don’t believe he was really thinking about the context of this message. I believe (I admit, I could be wrong) that he was trying to be provocative. He saw this image, thought it would provoke a response, and clicked share.

The nature of memes allows, in fact encourages, people to communicate in a reactionary way. Almost no thought is required. Effective memes play against our emotions, not necessarily our reason. This makes for the spread of some really disturbing ideas that, if considered in their real context, almost nobody would agree to spread.

So I would like to propose a norm for sharing memes that I call the “Mama Rule”. Before clicking ‘share’, ask yourself, ‘if this meme were about your mom, would you share it?’ If the answer is no, then it is probably not a good idea to share.

It would be nice if those creating the memes would follow the same rule, but the anonymity of this particular form does not lend itself to such internal controls. However, if enough people will follow the Mama Rule, I’d like to think that fewer such messages would be spread.


1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s