Memes can come true … but not oftenPosted on
The internet is giving us information quicker and easier than ever but how much can we rely on what we see? Ellis Schindler has some fun looking at some of the memes that fill our timelines ……
Did you hear what the Icelandic footballer said about England’s disrespectful, overpaid flops?!? Except, err, Kari Arnason didn’t say any of this:
As he confirmed on Twitter, someone just made it up. The England players were in fact humble in defeat.
This summer we have been working with several groups of teenagers, both within sport and without, and focusing on digital communications and social media. One key message and discussion topic is that not everything is as it seems online.
These days, so-called memes proliferate the internet, taking up much of the newsfeed on our social media accounts. Typically containing a photograph accompanied by a quote or a statement of “fact”. There’s something highly compelling, it seems, about a photograph with text on it. How could such a thing possibly be untrue?
What we encourage the young people we are working with to do is to challenge everything and not accept information they see, whether convenient or inconvenient.
It is nothing new though. Untruths, whether malevolent, innocent or otherwise, have proliferated for years. Perhaps the most famous is Mahatma Gandhi’s famous reaction to the question “What do you think of Western Civilisation?”. There’s no evidence at all to support the claims that he said “I think it would be a good idea”.
We had some fun discussing the many, many memes that get shared far and wide across the internet and, we must admit, even we were disappointed that some of them were fakes. It turns out that a racoon didn’t carry a kitten in its arms after all.
Some are obviously fake but there’s no little skill involved. Take this video of the Pope. These days there seems to be no limit as to what good editing skills can accomplish. It would be naive to think that the Pontiff could, or would, have done something like this but the video itself is incredibly realistic.
In some cases, the meme in question has been deliberately set up. In others, it is simply a mistake. At the beginning of the year, actor Alan Rickman sadly passed away and people across the internet shared pictures and quotes in tribute, including this particularly tear-jerking one:
While the quote is based on lines spoken between the characters of Albus Dumbledore and Severus Snape in the last Harry Potter film, it was actually written by a Tumblr user and mistakenly attributed to Rickman. This was soon picked up on by the press, who published reports correctly the error.
Many of the fake memes that go around are harmless. Many are humorous and meant as jokes or done in an attempt to get followers and retweets. However, other viral images have a darker purpose and more damaging effects.
Take for instance the refugee crisis. The image below purported to show an ISIS fighter coming into Europe as a refugee. The image has been shared more than 70,000 times but the claim has since been debunked by the BBC. In truth, the individual shown had been profiled by the Associated Press where it was reported that he was a member of The Free Syria Army and had fought against ISIS. The image is far from the only one of its kind – aimed at spreading hate by appealing to people’s fears.
Far right groups know the reach and the power that images can have. Britain First is one such group that posts shocking and upsetting content in an attempt to get followers and donations. Whether it is pictures of animal cruelty, the Remembrance Day poppy or the use of Fusilier Lee Rigby’s name and image (even though his family has asked them not to do so), they use the content to try and appeal to the sentimentalities of social media users who might not otherwise be interested in their agenda and who might not realise what they are donating to.
Whatever it is that you are looking at on the internet, be it a funny video or a political statement, you might want to think twice about how likely it is to be genuine – and where it is coming from – before you subscribe to it.