Memes Are Bringing Us Together

In the same way that certain social groups are defined by characteristics like the way they dress, the way they speak, University Facebook meme pages are a way to identify membership, connect and network with others from the same educational institution. Are these meme pages the new college sweatshirt?

Source: Know Your Meme

One would expect college students to be learning about meme theory in class, Richard Dawkins style, but it seems like students are devoting their time and creative efforts to a cause closer to their hearts. Earlier this year, several college meme pages surfaced on Facebook and quickly spread throughout the college community across the country, to Canada and beyond. A purely student-led trend, the content is generated and inspired by students who depict their frustrations of poor campus facilities, subjects and teaching staff and long standing inter-college rivalries.These first world college student problems are expressed in the form of Futurama Fry, One Does Not Simply, Engineering Professor and Success Kid.

But aside from being a form of widespread procrastination standing in your way of that all important piece of paper that is your college degree, University Meme Facebook pages represent a new way of networking and communicating with others.

In the beginning

According to Know Your Meme, the earliest account of a College Facebook meme page was in October of 2011 for Florida International University of Miami which featured the Y U NO image macro after the team failed to make a touchdown at a local game. In January, a UMontrealMemes Facebook page was created and gained instant popularity creating a snowballing effect as NipU Memes, St Andrew Memes and UT Texas Memes soon followed suit.

What was surprising was the amount of print and online media attention these Facebook Meme pages received particularly since memes were, up until this point, confined to very niche interest groups (think I Took An Arrow in the Knee for all you gamers) and forums like 4Chan and Reddit. Facebook reported that it now has over 1 billion users as of this month and being the most popular social media outlet, has thus catapulted internet memes into the mainstream. It is now easier than ever to access memes through a multitude of Facebook meme pages and share them amongst friends.

One Does Not Simply Share A Meme

With Facebook being the most widely used social media platform and memes as an ever-growing social phenomenon, it seems likely the two would cross paths at some point. But how did the Facebook Campus meme page turn into an overnight meme-mania success?

Seth Lewis, Associate Professor at the University of Minnosota School of Journalism and Communication says that sites like Facebook allow users to create, alter and share memes faster than before. “Internet memes have been around since we’ve had the internet. It’s just that social media has changed the speed, reach and process to which people can participate in,” Lewis said to the Minnesota Daily.

These memes seem to have a struck a chord with their users and viewers, becoming somewhat of a inside joke to those who know understand and experience these situations on a daily basis. They are liked and shared by those who can appreciate the humour, a token of cultural knowledge to show off to friends and other Facebook users.

Not just for the LOLs

Despite the LOLs, LMAOs and ROFLs, motivations to share internet memes go much deeper than just a laugh. The ability to relate to a piece of content is important to how quickly it spreads. Amanda Brennan, researcher at Know Your Meme told ATM, “The potential to connect to a meme makes people want to share it more, whether it be out of common ridicule or something they feel reflects themselves or a social group they engage with.”

Students are shaping their personal identities through the sharing and subscription of these campus meme groups. It is a way for students to voice their concerns, issues and opinions in a safe, personal and more comfortable space than say a public forum run by the student council. Brennan says:

“Memes allow people to reflect on feelings that they want to talk about in an easily consumable way.”

Comments are shrouded in humour which makes students slightly less accountable for the things they post, however unlike other forums where users are anonymous or use pseudonyms, the identity of the members of the group are named and visible to all.

The rise of the College Meme page has sparked the creation of Facebook pages for towns, cities, transport systems, sporting leagues (NFL memes), public events (Olympic memes) and high schools (Lincoln Park high school memes). Think of a subject with cultural significance and you’re most likely to find a Facebook meme page has been dedicated to it.

Generated using Meme Generator

The new college sweatshirt

University Facebook meme pages are an extension of their elite predecessors; they are an online space fostering user generated content through interactivity. Users are both producers and consumers of these memes and their messages often simultaneously in what Axel Bruns terms as the “prod-user“. These Facebook meme pages are bringing students and people together who may not know each other but can connect, discuss and interact through these online networks, producing media that is being recursive, non-linear and ongoing as Terry Flew describes in ‘New Media‘.

Active membership in these meme pages, whether it be simply liking or sharing posts or contributing with personal generated content is what one could classify as being the digital way of belonging to a social or cultural group.  Just like the way certain groups in society are defined by the way they dress or the way they speak, so too are Facebook meme pages becoming the new college hoodie or football jersey.

It is no longer enough to say that people who engage in meme generation and distribution are part of a broader internet sub-culture. In the last year it has trickled down to very specific and defined social groups that don’t necessarily begin in an online space.

ATM’s Beyond the Memes is an investigatory series  in which we delve into the phenomenon of internet memes. We’re always on the lookout for more mysteries, so if there’s an interesting aspect of  memes that you would like to see explored, let us know via twitter @allthememes_. 

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