The New Front for the Culture Wars Is Facebook Meme Pages

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Here is a remarkably stupid statement that is also true: A Facebook page created to distribute memes about garlic bread is now embroiled in controversy after posting a meme (about garlic bread) that some readers considered transphobic.

Let me attempt to explain Garlic Bread Memes: Imagine popular memes, like Dat Boi, but with garlic bread added to them. That’s the page’s animating idea: What if your favorite memes referenced garlic bread? “This is very stupid,” you say, correctly. It’s amusing nonsense, with a quarter-million followers. Garlic Bread Memes is nothing if not committed to the bit.

Anyway, last night, they posted this image:

Can you see why this might be a problem? Many people would argue that gender is not a binary, but rather a spectrum of options beside male and female. The page admin who posted the image is, according to BuzzFeed, an 18-year-old from Israel named Boaz, who said, “I posted it because I find it funny.”

Many vocal readers did not. The garlic-bread meme, in this case, was transphobic and discriminatory. Others found the outrage over a meme about garlic bread and gender funny in its ludicrousness. Then, Redditors found it, and swarmed the page to comment on political correctness and social-justice warriors.

Here’s another true statement: The Garlic Bread meme page is not even the first Facebook meme page this year to devolve into full-on flame wars following accusations of bigotry. A couple of weeks ago, the Facebook group Post Aesthetics — a private meme-sharing group — experienced a dramatic schism after members got into a heated debate over whether the frog Dat Boi was racist for appropriating black slang.

Flame wars online — especially on Facebook — are nothing new. But they’ve usually been confined to political groups and pages that focus on issues into which people have invested an enormous amount of emotional energy, like parenting. No one is invested in garlic bread the way parents are invested in their breast-feeding choices. Garlic Bread Memes and Post Aesthetics are silly pages. I don’t mean that in a derogatory way, just in the sense that you wouldn’t expect them to erupt into extended flame wars.

To some extent, this is a case of what’s known as the filter bubble — the assumption that our highly customized and personalized social-media feeds are accurate reflections of the world at large. It’s understandable that anyone willing to subscribe to the pinpoint specificity of garlic-bread memes might also assume that fellow followers are like-minded. But homogeny doesn’t scale. Once you have a group in the thousands, you will come across people with whom you disagree.

But it’s also that on the internet, where participants are constantly compelled to outwardly perform their identities, there’s no distinction between the silly and the serious, the personal and the political. Everything is a staging ground for debate, even meme pages.