I need to start this off by stating that I LOVE memes. We create loads of them for Instagram and Facebook. I share them, like them, tweet them.
However, I am also acutely aware that a widely shared meme demonstrates 'this view is popular'. If that view makes someone feel negative emotions such as guilt or shame, the meme may be toxic to their mental health.
People are extra-sensitive right now, as we're all coping with our own, unique situations. Consequently, the opportunities to make people feel 'less than' are abundant.
<Waits patiently whilst someone bleats on about snowflakes>.
When brands create memes, they've usually got a very defined audience in mind (and I am including us as a brand here - 15 years in business, we've got a logo and everything, if I want to say we're a brand, let me have it).
You think pretty carefully about who you want to 'speak' to, as a brand. You're not intending to actively alienate every one else (most of the time), but you're not really trying to speak to the majority, as much as you're attempting to really reach the people who share your core brand values.
I tend to try to play it safe - to me this means 'don't make anyone else feel bad, in trying to make someone feel good'.
When individuals create memes, they've just thought 'sounds good to me' and go for it.
Toxic memes are falling into a variety of categories.
I first came across this in various business groups on Facebook.
Now, businesses are getting hammered by the lockdown. Many business owners aren't working, aren't earning and don't know whether they'll ever re-open, such is the current economic reality.
Needless to say, therefore, seeing these posted, does not necessarily buoy your spirits, when you're wondering 'am I going to lose my house in all this?'.
Worse, the sentiment got shared much more widely. As if everyone was now on some kind of extended holiday, and should be 'making the most' of their sudden, clearly abundant, free time.
Sure, you may be trying to home school your children, make £2.50 last for 4 weeks and stop your dog going crazy, but if you really wanted to learn to play the cello, you would be making it happen.
Meanwhile, you could be doing none of these things, and spending all day in your pyjamas, watching Netflix, and finding even that a struggle. You got through another day. You are doing enough, right there. Don't be guilted into thinking you aren't.
Finally, you might be like me - essentially, kind of fine with lockdown and a bit lazy. Still. Leave me be. I usually work flat out, so excuse me if I don't want to make now the moment I write a book.
Fat Shaming Memes
These have built in popularity, the longer the lockdown goes on. I'm not sharing one. You've seen them, probably given them a like, possibly shared them.
They're essentially variations on the theme of how fat you're going to be, by the time lockdown ends.
I do not think you're fatphobic for sharing these. There's some kind of weird validity that comes from something being a widely shared meme - just a general 'it must be ok'. And, it made you laugh, at first glance. Quite possibly, your intentions lean towards being self-deprecating. I understand all of this, and I just ask you to think about who these ultimately refer to. This article explains it brilliantly.
(Incidentally, the very first one of these I saw had a picture of a toddler, on a beach, in a bikini. So, yay, we're somehow - what? - fat-shaming children now? I don't get it).
See above - I'm not sharing any. These are similar to fat-shaming memes, just replace being overweight with
1. having grey hair
2. having wrinkles
Because, of course these are the worst things that can happen to us.
Anti-Feminist Feminist Memes
Not lockdown specific, these. They'll say things like:
"You can always tell who the strong women are. They are the ones you see building each other up, instead of tearing each other down."
Implicit it in these is that there's lots of women behaving terribly towards each other, and a few, strong ones not.
Essentially, this is something all of the toxic memes have in common - putting a group of people down - either obviously, or subtly. And it is often subtle, which is what sucks us all in to sharing them.
You may, from reading this, consider me a completely joyless shrew. Just to let you know, I am fine with that.