The internet is full of content that can make us laugh, freak us out and fill us with hope for the human race. But it’s more than just trolls and lols. If you know what to look for, memes, tweets and everything in between can serve as an early warning system for cultural and behavioural shifts. Every other week, we’ll be highlighting a few you might’ve missed.

This week, among other things, we’re exploring digital fandom, the new rules of language and how Instagram filters are being used in the backlash against ‘real’ beauty.

The ‘30-50 feral hogs’ meme says a lot about how people deal with offline horror on Twitter
Over the last week, a lot of the internet community were throwing around the phrase ‘30-50 feral hogs’, often without context. Why? Well, it started with a tweet about gun control in the US, and a particularly ridiculous reply to that tweet:

Obviously, this response makes no sense, and is an easy target for ridicule. William McNabb immediately became the digital posterchild for the middle American “Make America Great Again” stereotype so many people love to hate. But there are a couple of reasons people have latched onto this kind of politicised in-joke:

      • The phrase '30-50 feral hogs' makes for an ideal in-joke because it's so distinctive. Anyone who knows the joke will recognise it anywhere, regardless of context.
    • With one research group counting 255 mass shootings in 2019 up to August 5th, jokes like these are a welcome respite; a reason to laugh, rather than cry.

TL;DR: In tough times people look to the internet for laughter.

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Instagram filters like Plastica are a response to 'real' beauty
Instagram filters have really come into their own this year, with an uptick in emerging digital artists creating aesthetically pleasing additions that don't just look cute, but say something about the digital space. One of these is Plastica, from @teresafogolari. It looks like this:

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It's one of a number of filters that emulates and exaggerates plastic surgeried aesthetics. Filters like these are a clear backlash against a beauty landscape that peddles fakery as natural – whether brands on billboards or heavily edited social content via apps like Facetune. “The idea of a plastic, artificial beauty is especially relevant in today’s society,” confirms another filter creator in an interview with Dazed Digital. “When I was creating [my filter] Beauty3000, all I could think of was, ‘you want plastic? I’ll give you the real plastic’.”

TL;DR: With 'real' beauty ideals increasingly impossible to achieve, people are subverting those ideals instead. 

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Yet another war between YouTubers demonstrates why drama spreads like wildfire online
Last year, YouTuber Animal Jayson (a gaming vlogger with less than 1,000 followers) posted a scathing review of YouTube overlord VideoGameDunkey (who comparatively boasts more than 5 million followers). A year later, Dunkey posted this video, in which he addresses a number of people who've reviewed his channel, including Animal Jayson:

It's not exactly a clapback video aimed at Animal Jayson, so much as a dissection of the kind of critique he receives more broadly. All the same, the video drew criticism from the wider internet over whether or not it was fair for such a giant internet personality to talk down another creator with so few followers. Cue a debate to unfold on Twitter. In some ways, it’s a David and Goliath story for the digital age. But Dunkey’s video wasn’t actually that harsh – or even aimed directly at Animal Jayson. So why were people so riled up? 

All content exists in a wider network of comments, content and captions that can shift the meaning of the original content, regardless of the user’s initial intentions or tone. In this case, the conversation swirling around the video shifted the meaning of the video itself.

TL;DR: Comment sections are often as important as the content itself.

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A GoT season 1 meme contest is being held on reddit, and it says a lot about digital fandom
Game of Thrones finished forever in May this year. Season 8 was a perfect example of a communal digital event; over the course of the day that an episode aired, online communities would boil over with memes and content that stanned, speculated and lamented in equal measures. But even in the absence of the show itself – or any foreseeable books – these communities continue to thrive. /r/freefolk, for example, has become a hyper hyperniche newsroom to keep up with the community in the aftermath of the show. This week, they launched a season 1 meme contest, which harks back to the meme creations of 2011.

Freefolk Tourney: season 1 meme contest from r/freefolk

If this contest tells us anything, it's that what bonds superfans together isn't the thing they love, but the like-minded people who rally around them.

TL;DR: Internet fans come together for the subject matter, but stay for the community.

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‘K’, ‘ok’ and ‘okay’ are a testament to the new rules of language
When texting became a universal communication tool, a lot of people lamented the death of English as we knew it. And they were kind of right. But it’s not a bad thing. Before, the rules of communication were dictated by correctness. Now, it’s less about the words, and more about the feeling they communicate. Take this Instagram post:

‘K’, ‘ok’ and ‘okay’ are united in the fact that none of them are grammatically correct, for example, but tonally they are worlds apart. Nuances like these represent a huge shift in human communication, and it’s so important that linguist Gretchen McCulloch wrote a whole book on it, called Because Internet.

TL;DR: Communication online prioritises tone over grammar.