Internet Memes Are Making UK Children Fat, Say Researchers Who Don't Understand Memes

from the my-Imgur-account-gave-me-the-diabetes dept

Literally anything can be the basis of a moral panic. The internet's mere existence has prompted all sorts of panickers (professional and lay) to blame any number of things/concepts for destroying the youth of the world. If it's not teens getting high by huffing MP3s with their eyeballs and ears, it's Minecraft creating unrealistic home-building expectations or IoT devices creating a generation of automaton abusers.

For those that buy into this thinking, it seems plausible because it's happening in the present. With technology being indiscernible from magic, the academics behind these questionable assertions are no more than shamans guiding the faithful towards conclusions that cohere with their prejudices. If they didn't have X growing up, chances are X is what's ruining their kids. A little history would go a long way. I mean, at one point in time, chess -- the game of kings and gifted elementary school students -- was considered to be the Grand Theft Auto of its day, capable of turning players into cold-blooded killers.

Some UK "researchers," who have earned every bit of derision contained in those scare quotes, are claiming internet memes are ruining children. While they may have somewhat of a point about bullying and shaming, they lose it completely by claiming memes play a role in the UK's childhood obesity stats. (via PetaPixel)

Here's the part of the "written evidence" [PDF] that makes a little bit of sense:

Our provisional inquiries show that a substantial number of individuals on Twitter share health related Internet memes, with both positive and negative messages, through their public accounts. Such is the pervasiveness of Internet memes that the vast majority of sharers display little, if any, emotion when sharing these memes: many of which contain inappropriate material or ridicule others by race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, body shape, religion, diet etc. When viewed in this way, Internet memes have the potential to normalise undesirable behaviours such as trolling, body shaming and bullying, and a lack of emotion may be indicative of a larger apathy with regards to such practice.

Yes, the internet can be an awful place filled with awful people. So can real life. Internet decorum isn't on par with IRL decorum, but that doesn't mean the "emotionless" sharing of memes is indicative of widespread sociopathy. Lots of things, good and bad, are "normalized" through frequent exposure. But on the whole, the internet is net gain for humanity, and that includes today's youth.

Moving on from there, the "researchers" decide the same memes -- the ones normalizing body shaming and bullying -- are also (somehow!) normalizing something that tends to attract body shaming and bullying.

Whilst the sample for this preliminary research equates to about 5% of Sykora et al.’s (2014) sample, it does uncover a potential ‘hardening’ of social media users’ emotions towards memes. [...] Furthermore, in ridiculing body shape, diet and fitness there is a worry that we are also normalising obesity, poor diet and sedentary behaviour.

If you want to have it both ways, I guess you can. Ridicule = normalization. Why not? I mean, this is "research" that starts with a ridiculous theory and trolls the web for internet detritus to back it up. The "study" culled a bunch of tweets containing hashtags related to body image (#fitnessaddict, #flexibledieting, and… um… #meme[?]) and used the hashtag #tea for a "control." Unsurprisingly, these intrepid researchers found memes being shared without much use of "emotional" words -- at least according to the AI it fed the tweets to.

These results would have ended the "study" right then and there if the researchers were intellectually honest and/or had any idea how meme sharing works. To paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, the meme is the message. They're generally served straight up, with no additional text from those sharing them. If there's any emotion present, it's a like or dislike of the meme itself. Unsurprisingly, there was almost no "emotionality" contained in the tweeted meme dataset.

This isn't so much a research project as it is a pitch for a tweet-hoovering project the researchers would like to see continue. This "research" is basically a roundabout way of asking the UK government for money. It goes under the name "MEMEotive," which should cause involuntary vomiting in any number of readers. (I apologize for not warning you in advance.) This project seeks to hitch its wagon to government-funded social media surveillance pioneered by the war-fighting arm of the UK government.

The project, MEMEotive - Analysing the Effects of Internet Memes on Young Teenagers’ Health and Health Behaviours – builds on the success of EMOTIVE, funded by the Defence Science Technology Laboratory (DSTL) following the London Riots, to detect and measure emotions on social media (Twitter).

MEMEotive aims to understand which memes become popular and how they influence and motivate the health and health behaviours of young people and teenagers.

Speaking of wagon metaphors, MEMEotive needs to gets its horse in front of its cart if it's ever going to understand anything. It may want to familiarize itself with the how and why of memes before it starts attributing a 30% childhood obesity rate to image macros.

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Filed Under: memes, moral panics, obesity, uk


Reader Comments

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  1. icon
    Bamboo Harvester (profile), 24 Oct 2018 @ 4:20am

    Fools..

    ..Everyone knows it's spoons that make people fat...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Oct 2018 @ 4:24am

    Edible memes!

    Hunger ended with internet jokes. What a world we live in!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    got_runs? (profile), 24 Oct 2018 @ 4:48am

    🍔🍟🥤

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    DOlz, 24 Oct 2018 @ 5:01am

    Memes have been around long before the internet and they definitely influence people because we’re mindless reactionary machines. One look at this poster from my youth has condemned me to a life long regime of pull ups.

    https://www.amazon.com/There-Retro-Motivational-Poster-24x36/dp/B0785RPPBQ

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Oct 2018 @ 5:07am

    Re:

    That cat is dead.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    DOlz, 24 Oct 2018 @ 5:29am

    Re: Re:

    Noooooooooooooooo!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Oct 2018 @ 5:34am

    Maybe the cake isn't a lie after all?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    DannyB (profile), 24 Oct 2018 @ 6:23am

    MEME-lite. Less filling, just as inciteful

    People should switch to lower calorie memes.

    The Windows Support guy said Windows would work better if I Power Cycle at least twice a day. But I don't even own a bike.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Oct 2018 @ 6:23am

    "Internet Memes Are Making UK Children Fat"

    I was unaware that they were eatable.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Oct 2018 @ 7:13am

    I still don't know what to call actual memes when the definition has been shifted to mean what they used to call a "macro", which is equally bad shorthand, but not as bad in the self-aggrandizement department.

    Also there is still no such thing as AI. They are not even crap-level expert systems. Microsoft is currently particularly annoying with this.

    At least "5G" is in incredulity quotes in the next post.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 24 Oct 2018 @ 7:15am

    Sweet sweet MEME's

    I think the problems is they are using refined sugar to sweeten those MEME's. They should use something natural, like honey. Our digestive systems are set up to digest things like honey, but all that refining causes those saccharides to just go to fat.

    Ban refined MEME's!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Oct 2018 @ 7:38am

    Re:

    The concept of "body shaming" they refer to is itself a meme. They say "normalising obesity" is a bad thing, which sounds a lot like body shaming.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Oct 2018 @ 8:07am

    Re:

    Call them memes. The meme of referring to images with overlayed text as memes doesn't really change the original meaning, it's just an efficient meme.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    Bamboo Harvester (profile), 24 Oct 2018 @ 8:22am

    Re: Re:

    There are two "body shaming" memes floating around I admit to snickering to.

    One is a pic of a rhino with the caption "Gravitationally Challenged Unicorn", the other a pic of a unicorn captioned "Fat Shamed Rhinoceros".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    Ryunosuke (profile), 24 Oct 2018 @ 9:35am

    The irony here, is that the research on memes making kids fat, has now itself, become a meme.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Oct 2018 @ 9:51am

    Re: Sweet sweet MEME's

    I'm sorry Anonymous^2 Coward, I see where you're coming from, but I just can't do it. Natural honey isn't strong enough or sweet enough; only refined cane sugar can make memes I can still taste.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    stderric (profile), 24 Oct 2018 @ 10:50am

    from the my-Imgur-account-gave-me-the-diabetes dept

    Forgive my pedantry, but in the given context the proper spelling is diabeetus.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    ECA (profile), 24 Oct 2018 @ 11:38am

    If ya aint got a finger..

    you cant point at things causing you problems..
    You cant blame other people/things for your problems..

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Oct 2018 @ 11:51am

    Re: If ya aint got a finger..

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. icon
    trollificus (profile), 25 Oct 2018 @ 9:39am

    Re: Re: Re:

    And many other cats as well. I think, with the aid of a government grant and a nauseating project name (I'm thinking of going with "The Cat-astrophe of Uncontrolled Memes". Like it?), I can prove that this proto-meme normalized branch-hanging by cats, which shortened their lifespan by somenumber%.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2018 @ 2:16pm

    News: UK government wants to ban internet memes because they hate free speech.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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