April 24, 2021, was a strange day for the world of the internet. The day heralded both a years-long meme of a “Josh Fight” and a wave of TikTok paranoia that men would be committing sexual assault en masse. Thankfully, the Josh Fight was all in good fun and raised money for charity, despite a number of participants not wearing masks, and the Rape Day trend turned out to be a hoax. But the lesson to be learned in both of these instances is that the internet has a lot of power over society, and we need to be careful with how it is wielded.
These two incidents, of course, are far from the only incidents where memes have manifested off the internet and into real life. There was the Area 51 “raid” of 2019 wherein people believed they could find the secrets of the infamous military base if there were enough people there to storm it. This didn’t pan out as expected, but nevertheless, the event still received media attention and some people did show up. There was also the fear in 2019, when the “Joker” movie was released, that it would inspire mass shootings by incels — rejected men who often express their feelings through bad memes featuring the Joker. Although no shootings transpired, the emotions that this created were very much real. These past events show even more why we need to be more careful about what the internet publicizes.
On the whole, there is nothing wrong with memes as a concept. They’re hilarious, and everyone participates in meme culture in one way or another. What becomes harmful, though, is when people use them to spread fear. Though Rape Day was indeed a hoax, the fear took hold of the internet and warned women to stay inside or walk with a weapon to keep from being attacked. Likewise, the “Joker” controversy made people scared for their lives to go and see a film. Meme culture stems from the concept that ideas spread quickly. If those ideas or images are provoking real-world violence, then social media websites have a responsibility to alert the proper authorities. It doesn’t matter that these companies are privately owned; if an incitement for a dangerous event is going around the web, then the sources need to be found and understood.
Especially given that these “meme events” are becoming more and more popular, individuals should do their diligence to ensure that these events are safe and fun, rather than perpetuate fear by sharing frightful potential events. A “see something, say something” rule is best adhered to; if you see something concerning, it should be reported. Social media companies should do their due diligence to ensure potential issues are looked into rather than sit back and do nothing.
Meme culture, at its most base level, should be a way for people to share funny quips and phrases. There is so much good that meme culture has had and will continue to have on the internet as a whole. It’s up to all users to continue those funny memes, rather than ones that make people scared to leave their houses.