In the new normal where college campuses are shuttered and leaving one’s home could pose a health hazard to dozens of people, one aspect of college life has remained mostly intact: memes.
Facebook pages highlighting the shared difficulties of the coronavirus crisis, such as “Zoom Memes for Self-Quaranteens,” have gained massive followings among college students. Existing meme pages have seen shifts in content and frequency of use, according to users interviewed by the News.
Twelve days after the Zoom Memes for Self-Quaranteens page was started — in the time between March 11 and 23 — membership had soared to over 300,000 members, according to a post by one of the group’s administrators. Today, the Facebook group, which was created for students who are now taking online courses and which was named in a traditional rhyming manner, has over 580,000 members.
“[I]t’s … nice to know that there’s a group of people who are going through similar experiences and feeling similar feelings — despite being physically apart — and sometimes that community is better expressed in laughter than prose,” said Matt Song ’23.
He said he initially joined Yale’s unofficial meme page during application season because he “was looking for laughs and community.”
When the Zoom Memes page reached 300,000 members, its administrators started a donation fund with the goal of raising $300,000 for the CDP COVID-19 Response Fund. In the post, they expressed their hope that the “viral meme page can now have real impact and help the wider community in these times of need.” A Wednesday post from a moderator advertised merchandise for the meme page, from which 10 percent of proceeds would go to the fund, according to the post.
But connection and philanthropy are not the only online products of this crisis. “People were using anti-China COVID memes to veil their racism,” Athena Flint ’21 said of “The Ivy League Meme Consortium,” an Ivy League-associated meme page. She said she recently left the group because she did not want “that kind of negativity” on her Facebook timeline.
Yale’s unofficial meme page, “Yale Memes for Special Snowflake Teens,” has seen an influx of posts about the campus’s closure and the debate about a universal pass grading policy — issues on the forefront of many students’ minds given the COVID-19 crisis. Facebook currently reports 10 posts a day on the page. Meanwhile, activity on the page “Overheard at Yale” has slowed significantly with Facebook reporting only four posts per day. As its name suggests, the Overheard at Yale page focuses mostly on snippets of conversations overheard on campus.
“[O]verheard [at Yale] is pretty much dead,” said Miki Cornwell ’22, who has in the past posted several times in the group.
Still, Yale and other college communities — from home —have largely coalesced around memes.
These pages have served different functions for different people, according to Flint. She said she did not feel a wider sense of community, but she did feel closer to her own circle of friends. “One of the ways we communicate is by tagging each other in memes,” she said. Now that students are dispersed away from campus, she said, “I just see myself tagging people in the memes I see more frequently.” However, she said that she does not spend more time on Facebook.
In contrast, Song said he definitely spends more time on the site.
But, said Song, he hadn’t noticed any changes in the way the Yale meme page functions. “I think that every page like this is dynamic, and the meme formats used as well as the topics being memed change rapidly,” he wrote. “So aside from the fact that we’re now memeing about coronavirus and UP, not much has changed.”
Cornwell said she used to keep up with what was happening on campus through the meme pages, but now the dynamic has changed. “I think now, more than ever, they’re just a way for our community to stay connected. Nothing brings Yalies together like commiserating over the difficulties of life,” she wrote in an interview with the News.
Yale Memes for Special Snowflake Teens was created on Nov. 28, 2016, and has 29,769 members.
Giovanna Truong | firstname.lastname@example.org