Last year, the story of model Heidi Yeh trended all over the internet. If you didn’t hear about it then, Heidi was a model who starred in a tongue-in-cheek advert that became an internet meme.
She was featured on a lot of news channels talking about the impact that this kind of internet culture had on her, not only as a person but also on her career. People now think that she is the person in the ‘meme’, that she has had plastic surgery and she can’t get larger roles.
Similarly, internet sleuths tracked down Maggie Goldenberger (ermahgerd girl) after a photo of her as a child holding Goosebumps books went viral and became a meme. The photo was found on a public Facebook profile and shared to Reddit. People shared a photo of her in a bikini and criticized her. The meme is still passed around the internet and Maggie has to see her childhood face spread around the world.
Why are memes harmful?
Ken Bone, a huggable happy undecided voter who appeared in the Presidential Debate became an internet star overnight. He was friendly, he had a great sweater, people liked him and made memes about him accordingly. He embraced it, and when he did a Reddit AMA (ask me anything), he used his own private handle. It didn’t take long for people to find his history and they weren’t impressed.
Because memes and internet stars aren’t always seen as people, multi-faceted and with weaknesses and strengths and capable of making mistakes like all of us. They’re characters. Salon put it like this: “Memes are inherently dehumanizing. To become a meme, an image must be dissociated from its reality and turned into something else. In linguistics terms, it’s a sign whose signifier is malleable — the image’s meaning, thus, is created by those who share it.”
Are we being careful with what we’re putting out there?
The sheer amount of people willing to look into someone’s background in depth makes the internet sometimes a scary place. Doxxing is a popular practice, where internet ‘sleuths’ search for an publish private information about someone.
Many online horror stories start with someone disagreeing in a forum, only to have their home phone number and address sent to them in a message. Think about Kim Kardashian and how what she posted on the internet led to a real life crime. Can we all say we’re being careful with what we’re putting out there? How can you tell who’s looking through your public photos?
What happens when the internet creates a celebrity?
On the other hand, some people embrace their new found celebrity. Laina Morris, otherwise known as ‘Overly Attached Girlfriend’, uploaded a video of her singing a version of Justin Bieber’s ‘Boyfriend’ for a contest. She decided to parody the ‘clingy’ elements and stared into the camera like a crazy person. The whole thing was done for comedy, and the internet lapped it up.
She now has over 18,000,000 views on the original video. She works with advertisers and has appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, showing that this meme helped her achieve her dream of working in entertainment. Even with such success, she says it had scary moments. “Strangers were finding my personal Facebook page and talking to my friends, they were finding where I worked and trying to access my college records.”
What do you make of these stories? Personally, I am afraid of the internet sometimes. When you put your thoughts and ideas out there, you don’t know who’s reading them. And I’m not just talking about trolls, there are people who can (if they want to) comb your social media accounts and find photos you forgot you had, find places you’ve checked in, and find out who your family members are. A real life horror story.
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