Memes are funny indeed, which is why they are so popular. Sadly, many of us would have spotted kids sharing disturbing memes, which trivialise grave issues like racism, sexual safety, etc. Of course, they are circulating it without understanding the full context of what they are sharing. This is a worrisome trend which not only normalises making fun of rape or skin colour, or body weight, it makes it look cool too.
The Independent recently shared a survey from Digital Awareness UK, in which more than a third (36 per cent) of schoolboys admitted to sending or receiving racist or homophobic pictures. The survey further reveals that nearly three-quarters of students across genders, aged between 11 and 18, have seen offensive memes on private group chats.
Emma Robertson, the co-founder of Digital Awareness UK, said, “I think you have got the groups of students who are just looking to perhaps get lad points, or to entertain, to engage. And then I think you have actually got another group of students who don’t necessarily have the intention of upsetting, offending, being disrespectful.”
It is not uncommon for minors to be active on social interaction platforms today. But among other things, minors on social media stand the risk of exposure to offensive content.
This content often comes disguised in form of jokes or memes. While it is easy to sensitise children to stay away from outright offensive content like provocative posts etc, how does one enlighten them the harm these seemingly funny and harmless memes can cause? In fact, in times when generating memes for social media consumption has become an industry on its own.
- According to a study some three-quarters of children in the UK admitted to sending or receiving offensive memes.
- Minors on social media stand the risk of exposure to offensive content which comes across as funny on the surface.
- We need to educate our children that such memes trivialise sexual crimes, shaming and bullying and also encourage peers to emulate insensitive behaviour in real life.
We have tons of pages and handles on various platforms, dedicated to the simple task of generating and sharing memes. The idea of taking pictures or doodles and adding text to them which can completely change their context is quite quirky. But if you pay close attention, you will find that a lot of people push agendas of hatred, misogyny and bias guised as memes. Sensitised adults can be guided into understanding what is right and wrong. However, it is more challenging to deal with pre-teens and teens.
Our children live in a world where the definition of being cool and popular hinges majorly on social media interaction. The virtual image is as important to them as their real one, if not more. Being labelled cool and funny among peers on social media thus often pushes our children into sharing content which goes against the values we impart to them.
For them memes are harmless. What harm can come from sharing a crass joke about a rape survivor? Or a meme which advocated fat-shaming?
But we know that joking about sexual crimes, bullying, shaming etc lead to trivialisation of these issues. The remarks may hurt the sentiments of pupils who are struggling with body issues, sexuality or are victims of sexual abuse. Would children reach out to their peers to discuss these issues? If they see them cracking jokes about the very struggles they are hiding? Also, it pushes down our children down the road where no joke is off-limits to crack others up. So it is our responsibility to make it clear to them that certain jokes and memes can hurt others sentiments and thus they shouldn’t be shared by them.
Offensive memes can also motivate youngsters to emulate an insensitive attitude in the real life.
Also, discouraging them from sending offensive memes is just not enough because it doesn’t break the cycle of offence. We should encourage kids to commit to never appreciate such memes among friends. School authorities and parents have to come together, along with trained professionals to rip off this label of cool from the offensive memes.
But above everything else, as adults, we need to lead by example. One must question those who are generating hurtful content, even if it is for adult consumption. Only when we ourselves stop sharing and generating offensive memes, will our children deem us fit to lecture on sensitivity and inclusion.
Picture Credit: Teiuvo
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own