Can Memes be Used to Spread Awareness About the Pandemic?

The unprecedented rise of memes has undoubtedly changed the communications landscape. Easy to make, with witty content and relatable themes, memes are popular on social media.

For teens of this generation, memes have become a language that lets them express their creativity and skills. Memes also provide a way for people, primarily those from younger generations, to express their thoughts or feelings while hiding behind a cloak of anonymity.

Essentially, memes have given people Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak! They now have a way to share their ideas without fear of being ridiculed. In fact, many have found a new sense of community through memes.

Importance of Memes During the COVID-19 Pandemic

COVID-19 has dramatically affected the lives of people globally. According to data from the World Health Organization, there have been over three million reported deaths from the pandemic worldwide as of May 1, 2021.

With memes being fast vehicles of information on social media, more so than videos and news on trending topics, there’s no question they play an essential role in raising awareness about the pandemic.

Memes are so popular. Governments need to spread information faster. What better way to achieve success in fighting the pandemic than using memes as part of the information drive?

Modern memes are easily relatable, especially for younger generations. Considering that so many people are on social media these days − approximately 4.33 billion − launching a digital information campaign using these platforms makes a great deal of sense.

As a relatively new disease, there are still so many things we don’t understand about COVID-19. We don’t even know how long vaccines’ effectiveness will last because clinical trials are limited.

As scientists learn more about the virus, more information is posted as updates. But with news sites and blogs being saturated by COVID-19 reports, people have grown used to having the virus around. Many have grown tired of hearing the same news, just with different stats, repeatedly.

That’s where memes can come in. True to their nature, memes are simple, but they can have a profound meaning. If created correctly, memes could become a great source of information to update users who love to use social media sites.

Because memes are highly shareable, really witty ones could work well in such a social media campaign. It could become an easy way to encourage people to follow protocols to avoid contracting the deadly virus.

Remember that viral coffin dance meme? Those guys are from Ghana and are actual pallbearers who were hired to dance at someone’s funeral. Apparently, people celebrate a person’s death in Ghana because it’s considered as their homecoming to a better place.

After someone uploaded a video of the dancing coffin guys, a clever meme-maker recognized that it would be a hit on social sites. So, a portion of the clip was made into images or GIFs that were quickly converted into a template for other digitally created memes.

The memes were usually related to COVID-19 and encouraged people to stay at home, wear face masks, disinfect their hands frequently, and practice social distancing. The message was that if people didn’t follow these protocols, there was an increased chance of them becoming severely ill or even dying.

Dark humor as it may be, the coffin dance meme really took the world by storm. Government entities realized it would be an effective way of discouraging people from ignoring public health protocols.

Did that campaign work? Probably! Who would want to die, anyway? As fun as the coffin dance might sound, it won’t be fun at all if you are the one inside that box! Uh oh.

Memes and False Information about the COVID-19 Pandemic

Trending topics are usually the ones used as a base to create memes. That’s the reason why so many COVID-19 memes achieved viral success. Their clever punchlines and dramatic visual content appealed to many people.

Yet, not all memes convey accurate information. In fact, there’s so much misinformation about COVID-19 in memes that it’s become difficult to determine which ones are correct and which ones are just fake news.

Using photos of popular celebrities such as Drake, memes are being created to spread false information about the virus.

One meme stated that the virus has a 99.97% recovery rate but that the “experimental vaccine” can “alter DNA.” It was implied that people shouldn’t get the vaccine. But that’s false information, of course. The vaccines don’t alter DNA in any way.

Some memes feature disfigured people supposedly claiming that they weren’t hurt by the vaccine, yet their faces show otherwise. Of course, their looks are overly exaggerated, and most don’t even look human. But many of these fake memes receive millions of shares and go viral.

Obviously, their intended audience is anti-vaxxers, but their originators hope that other people will convert to their beliefs and refuse vaccines.

Memes spreading such misinformation on social media are undermining the efforts of the medical community and governments to stop the spread of the virus. Instead of encouraging people to get vaccinated so that herd immunity can quickly be achieved and fewer people get sick, these fake information campaigns result in too many people refusing to get their shots.

In this age of modern social media communication, memes are an excellent vehicle for sharing information. Unfortunately, they’re also being used to spread fake news. It’s up to us as individuals to discern misinformation from the truth.

Digital artist and 3d generalist