Social media used to be a place where people could go to post photos of cute animals, link to weird articles, and share mundane status updates with friends and relatives. But as events such as the 2016 US presidential election have shown, social media has tipped into feeling primarily like a breeding ground for messages of hate and a forum for bullying.
In response to the onslaught of crushingly negative content, a trend among younger users has emerged—highlighting and sharing only messages that are dripping with positivity. Suddenly, for almost every gloomy trend that has percolated on the internet, there now exists a positivity-promoting counter meme.
Memes—images with pithy captions that are meant to encapsulate relatable scenarios and emotions—often evoke visceral reactions in those who identify with them. It’s a little like that feeling you get when you recognize yourself in a comedian’s joke. Memes are “a way for people to express themselves through a different channel,” said Tumblr-star-turned-media-consultant Jason Wong. “They’re the emojis of real life.”
WholesomeMemes, which has an Instagram account with over 22,000 followers, was among the first of these jolly promoters. They often feature animals, babies, and cartoons. The comment thread beneath them is filled with people tagging their friends and phrases like “reminds me of you” or just “us.”
For a long time online, it seemed like only the snarkiest and most deprecating of memes would get a share; if a post wasn’t biting or cruel enough, it didn’t cut through. But in 2017, wholesome memes began morphing insults into encouragements—small acts of polite defiance against the tide of negative rhetoric spread on the internet. The original Instagram account’s administrator, who wants to remain anonymous, attributes the popularity of this trend to the shareable nature of those memes. “People want to feel good and they want to make their friends, family, and other close ones feel good,” they wrote. “Having a positive impact is what makes these memes popular.”
Wholesome-meme accounts and threads now exist across a number of social-media networks including Reddit, Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook. Over 1 million people have subscribed to these platforms in various forms in order to see images that carry messages of self-love and support for others, and give advice on maintaining a positive outlook.
Read more at Quartz.