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, we’re exploring the latest in Instagram filter fads, new year’s resolution tweets and fandom in the age of outrage.

'Which Character Are You?' filters are the lovechild of selfies and BuzzFeed quizzes
If you’re on Instagram, in the last couple of weeks you will have inevitably seen at least one of these filters:

It started with Disney characters. But now, if you want to know which Harry Potter house you’re in, which internet cat you are, which Sailor Moon character you are or what Pokémon you are, there is a filter for you. This is the internet at its finest, combining some of the most addictive elements of the digital landscape into a single, undiluted hit. Here are some of the key draws:

  • They signal uniqueness. Just like a BuzzFeed quiz, these filters take a behaviour that many are participating in, and gives people a way to signal their perceived individuality through it (i.e. whether you’re a ‘Ron’ or a ‘Hermione’, for example).
  • They’re accessible. Participating in the meme is as easy as snapping a selfie – no witty angle or hot take required.
  • They’re fan-friendly. The proliferation of franchise-themed sub-genres of the filters further gives people a way to signify their fandoms.
  • They’re selfie-based. Most involve posting a video of your own face, tapping into the short-term self-esteem boost and validation that stem from posting a selfie.

Creators are reaping the benefits from this behavioural honey pot. The man behind the Disney filter – photographer and videographer Arno Partissimo – grew his following by more than 570,000 in the space of a week following his filter’s launch. These filters are an archetypal example of what viral Instagram content looks like.

TL;DR: Using these filters gives people a way to signal their individuality through a collective social behaviour.

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Resolution tweets provide an insight into the virtues of the moment 
With the beginning of every new year comes the promise Dry January, Veganuary, and all the other attempts at self-improvement that come with a clean slate – a psychological bias that’s only further strengthened this year, given that we’re at the beginning of a new decade. On Twitter, those who talk about resolutions are broadly split out into two categories: the people who talk about the ways in which they will be better this year, and the people who make fun of them. This year, the former category has shifted in line with the cultural narratives that came to a head in 2019. Tweets like these:

Tweeting about New Year’s Resolutions has always been an exercise in virtue signalling; whether you’re quitting smoking or getting back to the gym. But tweets like these point to resolutions that shift emphasis from personal improvement to collective improvement – while some are refusing to support Facebook in its anti-democratic endeavours, others are pledging to save the planet. 

Ultimately, this is still about using the new year to shamelessly signal our virtues. But these resolutions imply a shift towards a greater good. One analysis of 2019’s tweets showed a similar uptick in collective resolutions (including, but not limited to, ‘exposing the fascists’). And for better or worse, understanding what people aspire to is a great way to understand what they’re willing to spend on in January – beyond expensive blenders and gym memberships.

TL;DR: The new year is a great read on what’s important to society, and there’s a clear shift towards collective resolutions, and as well as personal ones.

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This TikTok perfectly captures the state of fan culture in 2020
It’s awards season in Hollywood, which means fan communities are out in force, rallying for the actors, directors and movies they adore. See this TikTok for reference:

@no986we

♬ original sound - no986we

The chaotic energy of this video perfectly captures fan culture in 2020. One of the great joys of social media is its ability to give niche communities a voice, and for diehard fans in particular, this has come with a huge amount of cultural power. The #SaveBrooklyn99 campaign saw Fox’s cancelled TV show resurrected by NBC, while the live action Sonic the Hedgehog movie was delayed following audiences’ horrified response to the trailer.

Fan communities have spent the last couple of years realising they have the power to implement actual change – especially when they’re angry. But with Award shows still ruled by archaic institutions (already this season, people have expressed outrage over the all-white BAFTA nominations and the Golden Globes received its fair share of hate for censoring Joaquin Phoenix’s speech), the notion of fan service is often lost, with nominations continuing to cause controversy. This is fandom in the era of outrage and cancel culture – defined by conflict and aggression. 

TL;DR: Social media has given fan communities the power to impact institutions and popular culture directly, and they increasingly expect to be listened to.