The use of Mass Trauma Imagery in Internet Memes
With advent of the internet, communities across the world have never been more connected. At the same time, the connective power of the web has facilitated the growth of traditionally small and isolated interest groups. These groups range from gender rights activists to train enthusiasts to cannibal communities. Like social groups that meet in the real world, these online communities often develop their own languages, complete with specialized vernacular, shorthand, and inside jokes. Often times, these jokes take the form of memes—images, videos, or text created with the intention that they be sent around the community or communicated to outsiders. While many of these memes are inoffensive jokes that spread quickly across different websites and internet communities, others contain explicit, xenophobic, sexist, and violent imagery. Some even contain photos or video from man-made mass trauma events like the Holocaust, the 9/11 attacks, and the 1999 Columbine Shooting.
This paper will collect and examine the use of images and video from man-made trauma events in internet memes. In particular, it will categorize and explain the different motivations underlying the creation of such memes –from spreading xenophobia to downplaying the impact of particular trauma events. It will also examine the content of memes depicting mass trauma imagery to determine whether any unspoken rules apply. For example, are these memes usually created after a certain amount of time has passed since the tragedy? Do members of the victim and/or perpetrator groups participate in their creation? On average, how much human suffering do the images depict—i.e. is the implication of death more common than on screen gore? Are the perpetrators or victims the subject of the joke of the meme?
What results is an introspective look at the intersection between online culture, traumatic imagery, and in-group and out-group communication through imagery.