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Memes with potential for danger circulate the Internet

From a professional football player to an SVC sociology professor, people are trying to wrap their minds around 2018’s baffling Tide Pod craze.

39 teenagers contacted poison control for “intentionally misusing laundry pods” within the first 15 days of 2018, as reported by Time.

“Yes, there are people who eat Tide Pods,” Zach Remaley, marketing major and communication and operational excellence double minor, said.

“I really cannot explain the meme. I think that it’s popular because people think it’s both funny and stupid.”

Laundry pods are toxic. According to Time, ingesting them can burn the mouth, digestive system, and stomach, and can lead to severe gastrointestinal distress, respiratory arrest, and death.

On Jan. 12, Tide posted a 21 second video on Twitter featuring Rob Gronkowski, professional football player for the New England Patriots, advising people not to consume Tide Pods.

“What the heck is going on, people?” Gronkowski said. “Use Tide Pods for washing – not eating.”

“The media is not very fond of this meme,” Remaley said, “but people on Twitter and other social media platforms love it.”

Remaley took part in the social media fun on Jan. 12, tweeting a photo of a laundry pod inside a bitten sandwich, explaining, “Okay I understand that the workers/staff at SVC are trying to be ‘hip and cool’ so they relate to us more, but the Shack workers are taking it too far…”

As Remaley sees it, memes like Tide Pod eating are not created, in a way.

“I believe that memes just kind of appear and become memes,” he said.

“They just happen and then people will make it funnier by adding their own twist onto it, like me with my tweet.”

Thaddeus Coreno, associate professor of sociology/anthropology, said the term “Internet meme” can be distinguished from the sociological term “meme.”

“Internet memes – I think they’re new with the Internet,” he said. “[But] some scholars, anthropologists, neuroscientists, believe that anything you learn [that is spread] in a culture could be called a meme.”

These memes, Coreno said, include ideas about rumors, jokes, religion and politics, and are naturally spread as people connect with others.

“It spreads because people talk — we’re all interconnected in networks, and then somebody tells somebody else, and somebody tells somebody else, and somebody tells somebody else… and before you know it, it’s spread throughout a network,” he said. “Even before Facebook people were interconnected via networks.”

Coreno suggested that perhaps memes are experienced differently than other forms of communication.

“The meme itself is interesting I think because of the way we read it so quickly,” he said. “Some critics have argued that memes really hit us in an immediate way, and because of that, work against our capacity to think critically about them.”

Coreno said he thinks memes strike people emotionally and might have the ability to impart opinions on them without their realization.

“Our communication department tries to foster critical literacy when it comes to the media, and that’s what they’re talking about,” he said. “Try to think critically about all forms of communication in the media – not just memes, but anything you see in the media.”

Coreno said that he’s happy with the opportunities for humor, learning, and positivity that memes provide, but recognized that some memes are worrisome.

Citing an article from the New York Times, Coreno explained that Russians seemed to have used Facebook memes to try to affect Americans’ opinions about national issues and presidential candidates during the contentious 2016 election.

“This came from Russia, aimed right at [undecided voters], and we now know it reached a wide audience of an American electorate,” he said.

“This is incredible.”

While the memes were certainly shared and received by many Americans, Coreno explained, there’s still a need to view conclusive research before asserting what effect they had on the election. Coreno also said he would be interested to see a study about the effects of memes on people in general.

These particular memes from Russia, though, have a very disturbing intent, Coreno said, regardless of how well they worked or what political party someone belongs to.

“You got these tricky memes, where they’re coming from an enemy of our country, meddling with our election, wanting a particular candidate to win. That’s scary stuff,” Coreno said.

As for the widespread meme of eating Tide Pods, Coreno described the phenomenon as jaw-dropping and disturbing.

“It reminds me of the movie ‘Jackass,’ to try to do silly, funny [things], and then they just get more and more and more and more crazy and outrageous, more dangerous,” he said. “And obviously people love it, they find it funny. And they get an audience.”

Coreno also related this attitude to the suicide forest YouTube video uploaded by social media star Logan Paul, which received 6.3 million views in a day but was heavily criticized.

“There’s that desire,” he said, “even for somebody who’s got 14 million subscribers or whatever he’s got — which is incredible — to always be doing the next thing, the next thing that will get people to go right to you and watch you.”

Remaley also explained why so many people take part in memes.

“I think we share memes in order to make something even funnier than it already is, or in [the case of Tide Pod eating], make light of a sad and dangerous topic,” he said. “I also think people make memes to show their creativity – how can they make this meme even funnier than the last one?”

Internet memes can also be explained through sociology, Coreno said.

“There’s a desire to be liked, to share your ideas, your values, if it’s something you made – your creativity,” he said. “But the idea is you’re connecting with other people, and that’s purely sociological.”

While Remaley said the trend of eating Tide Pods will eventually die, he predicted that the trend of sharing memes will live on for years to come.

“Memes have been around for forever, they just weren’t called memes,” he said. “Memes will be spread for the rest of eternity because […] anything can become a meme.”

Photos: Matthew Wojtechko

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