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NAMES ON THINGS, KANYE & QANON CONSPIRACY CULTURE

This 52INSIGHTS explores some of the trending conversations young people have been having this week - from meme-ish Instagram accounts that overlay names on top of images, to Kanye West’s mental health and Twitter’s action against far right conspiracy movement QAnon.

WHAT FROG ARE YOU?

Looking for your name on pictures is the internet’s newest pastime. The latest trend taking over Instagram and social media platforms is full of teenage nostalgia - it involves hundreds of accounts that have popped up, matching various (themed) images to peoples names. Peak quarantine feels.

These accounts, which have ballooned in number over the last week, are like the anti-BuzzFeed quizzes: you can’t optimize your way to the most flattering outcome... It seems that, in quarantine, we’ve all regressed to teenagers: finding joy in the simple fact of putting our names on things.” Sarah Fielding, The Guardian

From TV shows and celebrities (New Girl, Simpsons, Lindsay Lohan, Harry Styles), to animals (Frogs, Dogs, Cats) or simply random images and things like Meal Deals, you can now find themed accounts around almost anything uploading images with random first names placed on top of random images as a canvas. People are scrolling through these accounts for their own name (or requesting/paying for their own name via DM) so they can then repost the image to their stories. While it may sound like a stunningly frivolous online pastime, it is serving young people with memetastic humour and respite.

“I’m just really enjoying these. People like seeing their names on things. Remember Coke did that campaign where they put names on bottles? I think people bought them more because they were excited about seeing their name on things. I’m just really excited every time I find an image with my name on it.” Eleanor, 28, UK

Young people who are running the accounts talk about how they are inspired - Fielding reports: “Everybody loves to feel special,” said Alexa, the 19-year-old who runs @whatfoodyouare... “I thought, ‘What’s one thing everyone loves?’ The first thing is dogs, so I chose the second-best: food.” By using photos of everything from donuts to crab legs, Alexa has married the internet’s longstanding obsession with food with its latest fixation with names on things.”


KANYE WEST & A MENTAL HEALTH CONVERSATION

On Sunday, Kanye West broke down in tears at his first Presidential campaign rally. During what was described as an ‘emotional address’, the rapper spoke about abortion, God and (most controversially) slavery. Following this, West appeared to have a breakdown, visible to the world via a (now deleted) series of Tweets. In response Kim Kardashian West made a well written, considered statement - citing the complicated family struggle with West’s mental illness and his creative genius.

“Anyone who has this or has a loved one in their life who does, knows how incredibly complicated and painful it is to understand...I feel like I should comment on it because of the stigma and misconceptions about mental health." Kim Kardashian West

The events have opened up a broader discussion about society’s stigmatisation of mental health problems. Many young people we spoke to are hoping it’ll make people rethink how we frame conversations around mental health - and also to consider more deeply the impact that mental illness has on the family and friends of loved ones who form continuous bedrocks of support through ups and downs:

“As a society we’ve learnt to become very quick to judge bipolarity and other kinds of mental illness as a very bad thing. If there was more support and less stigma it could potentially become something positive. We are too hung up on ‘fixing’ what we call an illness. Obviously that’s very generalised (and Kanye does need support), but I do think it’s worth some thought - the stigma just ruins everything. The bits in Kim’s statement about support and respect for families of people struggling with mental health is a huge thing too, I’ve seen so many Facebook and Insta posts talking about that since she released the statement.” Anna, 28, Ireland

CONSPIRACY CULTURE & QANON

“I’ve seen people with ‘into conspiracy theories’ written on their dating app bio.” Andrea Horan, United Ireland

The surge in conspiracy theory in popular culture is something that we’ve been fascinated (and scared) by at The Youth Lab over the last few months. While there have always been alternate theories about the truth of reality, our world’s increasing instability, turmoil and complexity has ripened a collective sense of mistrust and invited the practise of alternative theorising between online communities. It’s been cited that we are entering a ‘dangerous new phase’ when it comes to conspiracy theories and online manipulation. In a recent Vice article Anna Merlan even suggests that ‘The Conspiracy Singularity Has Arrived’ - “with the pandemic and a global uprising against racial injustice to be explained away, conspiracy communities are bleeding into each other, merging into one gigantic mass of suspicion.”

One particular group that appears to have been gaining traction with bizarre far right conspiracies is QAnon. This week, Twitter announced a crackdown on QAnon accounts, banning thousands of them overnight in addition to various other measures to prevent the spread of misinformation. If you haven’t yet heard of QAnon here’s the lowdown... It's not simple - it curates an elaborate mish mash of bizarre theories (and was actually labelled a domestic terror threat by the FBI last year). At its heart QAnon is a wide-ranging, unfounded conspiracy theory that says that Donald Trump is waging a secret war against elite Satan-worshipping paedophiles in government, business and the media.” BBC (follow link for more). It sees Trump as a saviour, the pandemic as a hoax and the ‘race war’ as fiction. QAnon believes that members of the ‘global elite’ are trying to ‘control’ humankind, and people like Bill Gates and Hillary Clinton, are running an underground child sex trafficking ring.

QAnon started in 2017 and has been gaining popularity since, with its theories flourishing through social media. Covid-19 has led to a surge in its numbers with people looking for answers as to why everything was happening (likely also correlating with increased time being spent online and exploring internet rabbit holes), bringing it further into the mainstream.

“On Facebook in just four months [during the pandemic], membership of the biggest public QAnon groups rose by 700%.” BBC

The rise of QAnon and conspiracy culture is rooted in people seeking explanation, order, truth and meaning - but presents a real danger and leaves a lot to unpack. As you might imagine, families and friendships are being ‘torn apart’ because of it - losing loved ones to a cult-ish organisation. A young person who knows someone who has gotten wrapped up in QAnon theories describes it (to BBC) as a ‘fine line between heartbreaking and hilarious.’

BRAND TAKEOUTS

  • Sometimes it’s the really simple, silly things that take off. Even if they know it’s not completely personalised, people really like to have their name on stuff.
  • The conversation around mental health is still stigmatised by many. Getting the narrative right has become even more important to young people, especially since lockdown has adversely affected so many. It’s not just about how you destigmatize and support people with mental health challenges - it's also about recognising their everyday support systems. For brands and organisations this is a timely reminder of the importance of being sensitive to the needs of both customers and employees - the internal structures support what goes on on the outside.
  • Thanks to the growth of popular conspiracy culture, increasingly murky corners exist on the internet. A battle of mistrust and truth is playing out online with strange and elusive weaponry. While we all go down rabbit holes and enjoy seeking various explanations for world events, it’s important to analyse the source of information you are reading online, especially when it makes ‘alternative’ claims. Brands should be aware that all communication and actions have the ability to be misinterpreted and reinterpreted by communities online as part of a broader conspiracy - it's important to be careful when making specific claims around products and services.

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