A bunch of lame adults from Loughborough University have declared that internet memes are ruining teenagers' lives, making them fat and prone to bullying.
The horribly-named MEMEotive (it's supposed to sound like 'emotive') pilot study found that memes "normalise undesirable behaviours such as trolling, body shaming and bullying," and that teenagers were surprisingly unemotional about these topics when sharing meme content.
However, the written evidence for the study (which is also a request for funding to do lots more of it) has some pretty enormous holes. For instance:
- It's all based on Twitter, rather than a social network that's actually popular with teens, like Instagram or Snapchat
- The tweets analysed were found using four hashtags: #meme, #flexibledieting, #fitnessaddict and #tea (as a control). Literally no one hashtags a meme with 'meme', especially not teenagers, and the two fitness-related hashtags are a) not ones we've ever seen anyone use and b) pretty clearly biased towards a particular mindset.
- The study is very concerned about the apparent lack of emotion in tweets containing the hashtag #meme as opposed to ones containing #tea, but they apparently don't realise that in addition to the hot drink, 'tea' is a popular term meaning gossip, which is a pretty emotional topic and will thus massively skew the emotional content of tweets using that tag
- Memes are visual content and as such are not usually accompanied by much, if any, text – the text is on the image. Therefore looking at how emotional people are in the comments accompanying memes is a bit of an odd way to go about determining their feelings.
We could go on, but in short, this all sounds like scaremongering bobbins from people who don't entirely understand what it is they're talking about.
The evidence was sent by researchers from Loughborough University to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee for their enquiry about 'The Impact of Social Media and Screens on Young People’s Mental Health.'
According to CNN, it was sent with this meme as an example of what they're talking about:
Unfortunately, we doubt MPs have the requisite meme experience to judge this study on its merits.
It does have some merits, though: there is definitely some mileage in studying the kinds of messages that internet content promotes to impressionable youngsters, and how well we're training them to use their critical thinking skills to weigh the truth of those messages.
However, we're not convinced looking at people posting memes with #meme on Twitter are the canonical example of how teenagers behave. Or anyone, really.