MANY middle-class teenagers have visited the image-based social media sites “9Gag,” “Reddit,” and “4Chan” far more than they ever have in museums and libraries. Now they know “Forever Alone,” “Troll Face,” and other memes far more than their own friends. The visual presentation of these websites and the relevance of the posts to the personal lives of users have made the youth more interested in reading rage comics than spending time with their friends.

Meme is “an idea, a behavior, or style that spread from person to person within a culture.” Whereas “you are what you eat,” you are what you surf on the Internet.

Through memes and rage comics, it has become a common notion among 9Gaggers—as what the users of 9Gag are called—that women are not supposed to wear a lot of make-up or pose with ridiculous faces just to look beautiful, that children should read, and parents must always be respected.

At the same time, because of well-liked posts insulting Justin Bieber and Twilight fans, it has become common notion among 9Gaggers that Justin Bieber is corny, and that sparkling vampires can never be “real literature.”

Therefore, posts that reach the “trending” or “hot” pages in 9Gag indicate the general trend in public thought. Social networks tend to dictate the opinion of the majority.
Popular culture seemed to be very much affected by memes featured in these media. The word “meme” was coined by the British zoologist, Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene. He defined meme as anything that can be copied from one mind to another.

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Although 9Gag and other social network sites have given the youth information and entertainment, it may have failed in respecting individuality. When somebody posts an image ridiculing a fan of Justin Bieber, a reader of Twilight, a punk kid wearing a big shirt, a DJ using a Macbook, or when someone posts pictures supporting piracy, the use of weeds, and if these reach the hot pages, they dictate what the majority wants every person to like. The ones who beg to disagree will be bashed.

The negative use of memes may go as far as destroying the lives of the people who become memes themselves. Zeddie Little may not hate the fact that he became known as the “Ridiculously Photogenic Guy,” and the man behind “Bad Luck Brian” may find the incident funny. But Heidi Crowter and her relatives did not find it funny when the 16-year-old girl with Down Syndrome became the subject of a nasty Internet meme.

9Gag, Reddit, 4Chan, and other image-based social media may seem harmless, showing videos of cats, images of video games, Nutella, and rainbows. However, with the thousands, or even millions of people visiting these websites every day, this gives the networks power shape the ideas especially of the youth.

Whereas memes and comic rages and the Internet in general are becoming a part of our culture, everyone must observe basic ethics, including respect for the individuality of every person. Rather than become only one of thousands of people who “likes” a particular post, one must be free, within the limits of ethics, to post one’s own idea, so that though one may not receive many likes, one can still enjoy the space of one’s individuality.

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