Memes: Context, Interpretation, and Outcomes

Updated: Aug 25

Something happened recently in our little meme community that led to a rift between some long-time memebers and friends, so now is a good time to discuss how we would approach something like this on our platform. The spectrum of experience and perception is vast, and we hope to strike a balance between free expression and harm reduction. It's important to remember that, although we've seen active moderation go a long way, sometimes these things will happen. People disagree. They get angry. They feel the need to protect themselves. And we don't have all the answers.

Some memes are esoteric and lose meaning outside the group they were created for, some are intended to be shocking, some are just absurd and aren't meant to convey deeper meaning, and sometimes memes are meant to mock or subvert. Despite the creator's intent, people will assign their own meaning.

Then there are the memes that are intended to cause harmful outcomes, by reinforcing, promoting, encouraging, forgiving, and normalizing behavior. Sometimes it's obvious when a meme promotes violence, inequality, or loss of freedoms, but it can often be subtle. This subtlety has led, understandably, to hypervigilance for a lot of people. Knowing there are people out there who want to cause you physical, social, and emotional harm will put most people on edge. Especially in the global community of social media.

It's good to recognize harmful outcomes from memes. Is it better to recognize them more than a few times? Are there "teaching moments" in the meme world? Could we all just give each other a little more grace?

Let's look to what we know from scientific studies about confronting someone.

Does presenting evidence when you're upset and argumentative change someone's mind?


Does presenting evidence politely change someone's mind?

Also no.

Can you change someone's mind by adding more people saying the same thing in different ways?

Definitely no.

Any form of confrontation, regardless of how polite or friendly, will result in the opposite of the intended outcome. Meaning, people dig their heals in when confronted. (1, 2)

What does work when trying to change someone's mind?