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.


Fun Friday: All the news that’s fit to fake

Sometimes a news story is so outlandish, it’s hard to believe it’s true. Other times, a faked news story can be so on point, it’s almost hard to believe it’s not true. When it comes to these faked news spots, The Onion does it best.

Here, watch how Disney engineers its stars … from scratch.


The answer to the pressing question: What would happen if the Internet crashed?

Mapping the social media response

In more news about the impact of social media in the aftermath of natural disasters, Facebook has plotted the spread of status updates to create a map of how news of last week’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan spread across the social networking site. The maps show the prevalence of the words “Japan”, “earthquake” and “tsunami” in status updates between 10:37 p.m. on Thursday to 12:45 p.m. Friday (PST). They are considered to be the first maps showcasing this kind spread of information on Facebook. You can view the album on Facebook’s Global Disaster Relief page. I also made the images into a video, above, for easier viewing. I’m sure this kind of social media mapping will now become de facto in the wake of any future similar disasters or crises.

Tsunami Aftermath

Devastation caused by the tsunami can be seen in Kesennuma City, Japan. Picture by Reuters.

Not only are social media being used to report on the disaster, but people are turning to social media to coordinate relief efforts. The Los Angeles Times describes how Japanese Americans in the Los Angeles area are turning to the Internet to collect donations and help reunite loved ones. (Read the in-depth article here.) Google has launched a PersonFinder app to help people connect with friends and family in Japan. The app is tracking about 160,900 records of people. Additionally, AT&T has announced that it will not charge users for calls made to Japan through the end of this month.

I think this reliance on social media is evidence of how much humans want to connect with other humans in a time of crisis. Social media help people feel like they are involved in a cause, making a difference in their own small way. This trend of reliance on social media also highlights the usefulness of digital media: In a natural disaster, power lines and phone lines can go down, cell reception gets spotty and overloaded. But the satellites in the sky keep on working, closing the gap between nations — and people.

A tsunami of social media


A view of CNN's iReport feature. You can see they have an "assignment desk" for social media users.

News coverage of the horrific earthquake and tsunami in Japan highlight more than ever the mainstream news media’s reliance on user-generated social media to tell a story. This phenomenon has even become part of the actual reporting on the tsunami — I just watched a whole report by Josh Levs about social media’s impact on this event on CNN’s TV coverage. According to a December 2010 piece by PBS, Levs is at the forefront of this leverage of social media by the mainstream media. You can read more on his take on social media in the news at the link.

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