Memes and the news


Much of the social media response to Will and Kate's April 29, 2011, wedding revolved around the girls at either side of this photo: Bridesmaid Grace van Cutsem, 3, and maid of honor Pippa (Philippa) Middleton, 27.

This past weekend saw the occurrence of two very different news events — and the mainstream news wants us to know how each event produced immense social media response. Friday’s royal wedding demonstrated the 24/7 hay that can be made from two people deciding to get married. Much of the after-wedding coverage focused on the social media response to the day’s events. On a more serious note, late Sunday evening President Obama announced that U.S. forces had killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. According to Canada’s Daily Globe and Mail, the strike had been authorized Friday, but it appears it was not carried out until early Monday morning, Pakistan time.

What I find interesting about the actual news coverage of each of these events is the way in which reporting on the social media coverage becomes woven in to the way these events are discussed, and will ultimately be remembered. Social media is part of the story. In a reflection of the times, MSNBC has a fascinating story about the guy who inadvertently live-blogged the raid on Osama bin Laden. You can follow 33-year-old Sohaib Athar yourself (@ReallyVirtual) on Twitter. Just don’t expect him to follow you back. Athar has tweeted that, because of the massive response to his tweets, he’s setting his e-mail to filter out most notifications. “Bin Laden is dead. I didn’t kill him. Please let me sleep now,” he tweeted.


People light candles in the streets at Ground Zero, the site of the World Trade Center, in response to the death of Osama bin Laden on Sunday night, May 1, in New York City. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

Of course, the purpose of social media is to be “sociable” and to interact with others, right? Social media are a way for people far away from where a newsworthy event takes place to feel connected to and be a part of the story. One way people have chosen to interact with these two news stories is the Internet meme. In case you wondered, an Internet meme is an idea — a video, hashtag, photo, etc. — that is spread through social networks, blogs, e-mail, news sources and so forth. The content may stay the same (as in when a video goes “viral”), but the most interactive call on people to create their own parody of the meme.

The news of bin Laden’s death is still early enough that memes aren’t yet fully developed, though is beginning to track development of memes and social media response to the news of his death. Click the link to follow the development of any such memes as it happens. Please note that some memes related to these events may be gruesome.

This meme beginning to circulate regarding Osam bin Laden's death also takes a swipe at "birthers," who demanded that President Obama produce a long-form copy of his birth certificate.

Memes related to the royal wedding have had time to develop into full-fledged, organized sites and more.

Here are the Top 3 memes in response to the royal wedding:

1. Royal Wedding Girl, aka Frowning Flower Girl

When the noise surrounding the royal wedding overwhelmed 3-year-old Grace van Cutsem, the Internet was overwhelmed with parodies of her response.

Everyone loves a dressed up 3-year-old. Especially one whose scowling face can be seen in the corner of an otherwise joyful royal wedding photo op. traces the history of this particularly cute meme. If my word isn’t enough, NBC thinks little Grace came out tops in the race for meme infamy, too.

2. Princess Beatrice’s Hat

The hat Princess Beatrice, daughter of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, chose to wear to the royal wedding ceremony baffled viewers.

Princess Beatrice caught some unflattering attention for the hat she wore to the royal wedding. It’s been compared to a toilet seat and an octopus, among other things. The Sydney Morning Herald rounds up other social media memes spawned by the infamous hat. I will admit that I was interested enough to “like” a Facebook page, Princess Beatrice’s Ridiculous Royal Wedding Hat.

3. Pippa Middleton

Pippa Middleton

Pippa Middleton's white maid of honor dress garnered her plenty of fans on the Internet.

While different than the first two memes, it seems that the royal wedding was a PR goldmine for Kate’s younger sister and maid of honor. Just days before the wedding, Pippa was seen on the Internet as a classless hanger-on with a fake tan, who wanted to turn Buckingham Palace’s Throne Room into a disco for William and Kate’s evening reception. One royal wedding later, she’s now the hottest thing on the Internet. Most chatter centers on her figure, the hope that she and Prince Harry kindle a romance, and the reflection that maybe Pippa’s just not so bad after all.


It’s about time

About Time screen grab

I came across this interesting video about how our perspective on time shapes us as individuals, and even societies. Buried somewhere in the middle, the video also addresses the impact digital media have on education. To wit: If media change kids’ brains, what’s the educational system going to do about it? That’s the same question I started out with when developing my master’s thesis, which automatically makes this video interesting to me.

However, it’s also interesting for the way the video portrays what could otherwise be a pretty dry lecture: White board pictures. The whole 10 minute talk is illustrated by a hand moving over a white board, writing notes and other illustrative pictures. Much more interesting to watch than a talking head. In fact, this time will fly by.

Give it a look. What type of time perspective do you have?