“I saw a Facebook Meme about shooting Obama in the head”, I hear you cry, and indeed you are right in a way. So what is a Facebook Meme? A Facebook Meme is simply a status updates posted on Facebook. They are popular because they allow anonymity and a free pass to express oneself. In essence, anyone can create one.
They are most commonly used by college students to taunt someone or even to posthumously mock a dead celebrity, as was the case with Marilyn Manson’s image of Lady Gaga, which was last year immortalized on a T-shirt worn by the deceased pop star at her concert. There are many other examples as well. The point being that these pictures are shared via private user connections, which is not governed by any laws and rules that govern such sharing on a public platform. It goes without saying that this breaks many rules on the conduct of internet users in a free society.
There are many Facebook users who use the site to harass others. This is a violation of Facebook’s own terms of service and a violation of their intellectual property rights. In fact, there was recently an advertiser who was sued for selling shirts that were offensive to many users and then trying to make money from them by posting them on Facebook. Such a case has been heard in court and will most likely be ruled against the Facebook advertiser.
One could argue that these cases are isolated incidents rather than reflective of a broader trend. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between what is acceptable user activity and what would constitute harassment. It seems that a simple look at the user names associated with the Facebook pictures of people “sextorting” is enough to lend some insight into the potential abuse potential on the part of anyone doing a little sleuthing. Additionally, there is no apparent system to verify whether or not a Facebook user has engaged in such activities before he or she can be tagged as having done so. Such a system would probably only provide a way for advertisers to target their advertising based on a user’s prior social interaction.
The Facebook Meme Stemming controversy is also reminiscent of the recent kerfuffle about the Facebook photo-sharing site Flickr. While many people used Flickr to post personal photographs and paintings, others took this site to extremes by being willing to share almost any photograph available. This caused Flickr to lose its credibility and many paid members left in droves. Now, with Facebook, any form of user activity that would be considered harassment has the potential to be reported to the site’s administrators.
It is hard to say whether or not the Facebook Meme Stemming issue will become a problem. Currently, it appears to be quite widespread. If many more users begin to use Facebook to post their private photographs and then use the name “Facebook user” to refer to themselves, it may be difficult for Facebook to stop them. One way to address the problem is to institute stronger restrictions on the use of Facebook user names. If a Facebook user identifies himself or herself as a group, this could easily be enforced.
In fact, one way to make Facebook stop doing this is to no longer allow anyone but the actual user to use the “RI” icon next to their profile pictures. Currently, if a person wants to upload an image they can do so with the “RI” button. However, when a user starts posting private information such as a photograph they should have the user’s permission before posting. They should also be very careful who they give access to. For instance, if someone wants to post a photograph of themselves or their family, they should make sure the contact information displayed includes their real name, not just a generic name.
Even if Facebook eventually decides to implement some kind of restriction on the posting of personal photographs, the damage has already been done. As soon as a photograph is posted it is often shared across the Internet with the wide alert that the caption is a “Facebook Meme”. It is not just other members of the Facebook community that can see the picture. Many times the original poster will receive notification that their photograph has been circulating around the Internet and that their online reputation has been damaged. Thus, a cease and desist order may be issued by a local law enforcement agency if the owner does not take steps to stop the spreading of the “Facebook seen” term.