Everything seemed to be going great for Brad Kim, Amanda Brennan, and Don Caldwell of Know Your Meme during their ROFLcon panel “Becomes an Advice Animal, Talks About It” featuring guest speaker Blake Boston, the real life Scumbag Steve. Great, that is, until the subject of the I Can Count to Potato meme was brought up.
At that moment, the audience’s mood soured. Upset and offended purely by the existence of the meme, some audience members directed their indignation at the panelists. One such disgruntled attendee was Ben Lashes, Blake Boston’s agent.
The following tweet roughly paraphrases the question posed by Ben Lashes.
Why would Know Your Meme dare include a page about such an offensive meme? How could they? It seems so insensitive and it hurts our feelings so badly that we all just want to cover our ears and pretend that no one on 4chan, Reddit, or any other place has ever made fun of anyone with a disability, or for their race, or sex, or any other offensive reason, right? We should all just do our best ostrich impressions, stick our heads in the sand, and pretend that it never happened, right?
No. And fuck you for suggesting that.
Know Your Meme’s mission, since its inception, has been to document, research, and analyze whatever Internet memes that are brought to the site by the site’s users, no matter how offensive they are. It’s not about painting them as positive or negative, promoting them or condemning them, but documenting them in an objective manner. Furthermore, most meme entries in the database begin as user-submissions. If KYM were to only cover the feel-good, funny, family-friendly memes that come out of 4chan, Reddit, et al, they would be painting a false picture of the value systems, events, and impacts of those communities. The basic fact of the matter is that these communities churn out both innocuous and extremely offensive content. KYM’s role in all of this is simply documentation and analysis.
So does Know Your Meme play a role in propagating memes? At this point, yes, but that was never the intended purpose. I can tell you, as a former employee and original community manager of the site, that we were opposed to any attempt to help popularize any particular meme. We simply wanted to help explain the cultural artifacts of what was, at the time, indecipherable to the uninitiated. Granted, that translation sped up the process of bringing this culture to larger audiences; (we accidentally made our punk rock turn into pop-punk, if you will) but if we wanted to create a meme-amplifying shitfest we would have made memegenerator.net or 9gag.com instead of the reference manual that is the KYM Meme Database.
Why does KYM “slap ads on it?”
Because KYM isn’t a non-profit, and the FOUR employees who work there have to pay their rent. At one point in time we considered pursuing the non-profit route, but it just wasn’t feasible. Ben Huh, CEO of icanhascheezburger had been interested for a long time in the legitimacy Know Your Meme had garnered through placing memes into their proper historical and sociological context. Meanwhile, the rest of us attached to the project realized that we had to either sell, or potentially see the entire site go under like the Titanic. It was Cheezburger’s acquisition of the site that allowed it to continue to exist.
Now, why would Ben Lashes, agent/manager to viral video stars and internet memes criticize KYM for running ads? Why would he do this to a panel on which his own client was a guest?
That’s the question I’ve been wondering for the last 24 hours. At the moment that he asked that question I immediately regretted ever having introduced him to Blake in the first place.
Following Ben Lashes’ sabotage, further emotionally-charged questions from the audience followed.
The following tweet roughly paraphrases a question from the audience, asking what was so different about KYM’s portrayal of the Potato Girl meme, compared to The Sun’s portrayal of it.
First, The Sun is a shamelessly hyperbolic and exploitative tabloid within Rupert Murdoch’s gross empire of bullshit, whereas Know Your Meme consists of four people in their 20s who are passionate about accuracy and fact-checking, meanwhile making subsistence wages for their hard ward. There’s a thing called “fuck you money” that some people make online, and I can tell you firsthand that these four aren’t making it.
Secondly, The Sun has covered cases of Internet trolls on over 138 occasions, and yet they did nearly no homework at all on the I Can Count to Potato case; they incorrectly stated that trolls had been using the offensive image for months, whereas Know Your Meme correctly documented that the meme has existed for nearly three years.
Thirdly, The Sun limited their scope to Facebook, where Know Your Meme actually implicates 4chan, FunnyJunk, DeviantArt, The Chive, and many other places where it exists.
Fourthly, KYM places the meme in context, spelling out not only how it perpetuates ableism, but how widespread this problematic behavior is; meanwhile, The Sun article simply stated that people should be ashamed of themselves for preying on someone with disabilities, and proceeded to take an exploitative photo themselves.
So that “deer in headlights” moment that some people saw when KYM was accused of being the same as The Sun? It was a moment of “holy fuck! Where do we begin?”
As for The Sun: remember how they ran a piece a couple of days later about how they had seemingly just discovered the existence of LOLcats? I want you to think about that critically for a second. They’ve run over 138 pieces about trolls. They know about low-level troll macros like “I can count to potato” and then after they do an exploitative and poorly researched article about it they finally discover lolcats out of the blue?! Bullshit. That’s a damage control smokescreen if I’ve ever seen one.
The next question from the audience (this time from a man at least in his late 40s) seemed to be the most spiteful and misinformed; asking something along the lines of “why do you refuse to hold the people who make these images accountable?”
Apparently, he seemed to think Know Your Meme has the capacity to magically police all of the web, finding out the names and addresses of every anonymous and pseudonymous post on the entirety of the Internet, and force some kind of accountability legislation into law. It all comes down to one very important point made during the Defending The Internet panel near the end of the conference: It’s No Longer Okay To Not Know How The Internet Works.
To be more specific, I’ll reiterate a point I made in my last post about the Potato meme. Even if Facebook, Funnyjunk, Reddit, and all of the hundreds (if not thousands) of sites that feature the meme WERE able to remove the offensive image, you can’t get rid of the copies stored on the local hard drives of the countless trolls who uploaded it in the first place. To assert that anyone can hold all of the trolls accountable is either inexcusably ignorant or a willfully trollish comment in itself.