Wednesday 22 August 2012

Check what you meme: Cyber Bullying

Given the domination memes currently enjoy in social media, it is inevitable that the phenomenon would garner some attention in the press.  Whilst a majority of memes are harmless, there has been a rise in memes acting as an excuse for "antisocial behaviour", a.k.a. cyber bullying. 

At the beginning of August we saw headlines centering around a certain Aboriginal memes page that was set up on Facebook, a topic which Jeremy covered in his most recent post.  In the article published by the SMH, once the Aboriginal meme page was taken down, the discussion posts sparked the debate of the right to free speech versus hate speech.  Debate aside, it definitely shadows the advent of memes, given their ability to be used as "jokes" even if or when offending communities of people.  

A less debated but equally damaging occurrence is cyber bullying through memes.  This has not been given as much publicity as the racist pages, but it is an issue that could very easily escalate, should  the "meme" fad stay around for long enough. 

Memes catering towards very specific, personal humour, has led to the creation of countless Facebook meme pages.  On a larger scale, we have pages like NBA Memes (with around 800 K "likes"), on a smaller level, the Sydney Uni Memes (13 K "likes), and even smaller, pages for individual high schools.  

Now the biggest problem that occurs here is on such a small scale like a High School page, there is far less "generic" jokes that can be used for the memes.  Less content could lead to more personal targeting of both students and teachers.  Meaning for the page to have some success amongst the School group, they will need to push the boundaries and do as much as possible to get attention.  

Just this week in Rotorua, New Zealand, meme pages for high schools were featured in the national newspaper after a Principal was informed of the groups on Facebook.  Whilst there has been no "bullying" actually recorded from the pages, the Principal saw the red flag and acted on it.  The administrator of the page responded, as mentioned in the aforementioned article, by saying "if anyone finds any of these offensive just let me know and I will take them off."

This is all well and good, but to think a high school student, who presumably has limited access to Facebook during school hours, can moderate a page containing 350 members, is a somewhat naive notion.  We all know how quickly things get shared over the internet, so all it takes is one smart ass kid to post a meme aimed towards a fellow student, and BAM, everyone has seen it before the moderator even gets to their computer.

Cyber bullying through memes could just be a moral panic led by the older generations who struggle to grasp the humour of memes, or it could become a very serious issue.  Only time will tell, but for now, can we rely on the education system to guide them towards "ethical" meme creation? 



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