Controversial memes articulate an uncomfortable truth

Patrick Greenfield

Patrick Greenfield

The latest controversy over offensive Facebook posts highlight the fact that crude, ‘laddish’ behaviour is still far too common, and that the internet has given us unprecedented freedom to make fools of ourselves.

It seems that history really does repeat itself. Hardly half a year has passed since this paper published an article about a YUSU Officer making anti-Semitic remarks over Facebook. The news that James Carney has caused offence by publicly dismissing the Women’s Committee is therefore far from surprising, but no less disappointing.

Especially in light of the fact that Carney is standing for YUSU President in the upcoming elections and will therefore have a responsibility to represent the University’s female students, I believe his comments are simply unacceptable.

Dismissing feminism and the Women’s Committee is a small act of misogyny which nevertheless feeds into wider oppression, and is representative of worryingly outdated views. Other more extreme comments, including one commenter who is alleged to have made rape threats, which were posted in Carney’s Facebook thread but subsequently deleted, attesting to the fact that even minor acts of discrimination can create an enabling atmosphere for more serious kinds of behaviour.

Trying to justify such comments as ‘banter’ is to miss the point entirely.

Carney is not alone, however. The University of York’s meme page contains other, equally controversial material. Attacks on international students and snobbery towards York St Johns University may well be intended in good humour, but they are still equally as capable of offending. A joke can be taken too far; it’s one thing for light-hearted rivalry, quite another to publicly denigrate an entire population of students or insult a minority of international students. One commenter on the Facebook page noted the irony of attacking York St John’s when the University of York has fallen down the rankings in recent years, losing its spot on the top ten list.

Facebook and other new technologies haven’t led to an increase in offensive behaviour and opinions. They simply allow people to air views publicly that, prior to the rise of the internet, would have likely been kept quiet and would not have spread so far. Many of us can speak from personal experience of texts or Facebook posts sent in a state of heightened emotion which we later regret.

Unfortunately, these messages can now not only be kept in the public eye but also become the property of the social network you use, whereas before the rise of electronic communication, they may have simply been forgotten about.

More caution needs to be taking when using online social networks like Facebook and Twitter, because what may seem like ‘banter’ to one person will mean something completely different to another. Although we have a right to say what we want, we also have a responsibility to watch what we say.


  1. This is an awful article. If you look at any other ‘university meme’ page they are saying the exact same things – the old ‘ex-poly’ is rubbish, the old established university is full of posh rahs, moans about the SU, lots of injokes. Why would you expect York to be any different. Granted, some of the memes are in poor taste (and most misuse the original point of the meme) but to say that York students shouldn’t slag off York St. John students because we moved several places in University League Tables that are quite frankly, based on poor methodology (not sour grapes honest!) is clutching at straws.

    And no I don’t think it’s ‘banter’.

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  2. Wibble,

    Do you think that because other Universities do the ‘exact same things’, these things are justified?

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  3. I said ‘no I don’t think it’s banter’ which I’m pretty certain explains my position – I thought most of the YSJ jokes were pretty awful (apart from the Good Guy Greg meme one’. But I said why you expected York to behave differently from all the other uni meme pages – unless you think we’re special snowflakes. I don’t know how you can misinterpret that into ‘it’s totally justified’.

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  4. I absolutely support the message of this article and encourage every considerate human being to campaign against the spread of humour over the internet, following the great example of the author of this brilliant article.
    The internet is serious business and it is unacceptable that some people make attempts to drag to the dirt the otherwise pristine reputation of facebook exchanges! Moreover, these scoundrels trying to generate cheap laughs by making obviously stereotypical and intentionally outrageous observations brings disrepute not only to the university, but to humanity itself! This activity must cease at once, possibly through the introduction of state censorship!

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  5. Quite right @jokes. The internet is a very respectable form of communication. It’s around 50% pornography, 10% knowledge and 40% advertisement. It’s basically one big lad mag.

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  6. Terrible terrible article. I know it’s old but after finding it I feel compelled to comment. I’m not a fan of Carney’s treatment of others or his at times offensive humour -and he does seem to be the figure head of this lad like facebook trolling, but I always admired him as hes east’s rebel and some people, in particular the writer of this article need to develop a sense of humour or at the very least a sense of understanding.

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