What is a meme? The Cambridge English Dictionary defines a meme as an “idea, image, video etc. that is spread very quickly on the internet.” But is that all? Memes are increasingly becoming a mode of communication and community building, particularly among younger generations. The Hammer Memer, a Hamilton-based meme account with over 6,000 followers, describes it as a “virtual handshake”a fitting description given handshakes are universally recognized as a sign of greeting or agreement, representing the idea of building friendships and connections between people through the medium of the web. 

“You can tell that it can bring a community together … just having these shared experiences, and then laying them out in some sort of comedic visual. It gives people this sense of collective bonding,” explained the creator of the Hammer Memer, who wishes to remain anonymous.


Each post on the account speaks to that shared experience of Hamiltonians, whether it be the loss of the LRT, a love for the arts or the struggle to stay healthy. There are dozens of comments on each post, with followers tagging their friends to talk to them about it. While the content may be silly, the number of people interacting with it shows how relatable it can be, to friends and strangers alike.

There are dozens of comments on each post, with followers tagging their friends to talk to them about it. While the content may be silly, the number of people interacting with it shows how relatable it can be, to friends and strangers alike.

Despite running a relatively successful local meme account, the creator of The Hammer Memer, has had a rocky relationship with social media prior to creating the account. 

“My relationship with social media is kind of all over the place, in a way that I don’t really enjoy, but I also know that it can be a lot of fun, and it can be used for a lot of good things. I just kind of got fed up using it to showcase my personal life because I’m not the most public person, I’m a pretty private person. So I decided, ‘You know what, I’ll start making memes’ because I thought it was a really fun but easy way to use social media for good . . .  to make people laugh,” explained the creator of The Hammer Memer.

The response to the page has been overwhelmingly positive, with the account even partnering with the local brand O’s Clothes to sell their own merchandise. While much of the online community and social media has been criticized for becoming increasingly toxic, The Hammer Memer has created a predominantly positive space for Hamiltonians to gather.

“You hear a lot about the volatility of the interweb, and I was expecting a lot of persistent haters after some particular memes especially, but nobody was really attached to attacking me or anything like that. Overall, I’ve only received love,” they said. 


Some of the posts touch on more serious topics, like the Chedoke water crisis and coverup, in order to draw attention to them. The Hammer Memer says that, increasingly, they’ve noticed that younger audiences are turning away from traditional media sources in favour of online content, like memes.

Some of the posts touch on more serious topics, like the Chedoke water crisis and coverup, in order to draw attention to them. The Hammer Memer says that, increasingly, they’ve noticed that younger audiences are turning away from traditional media sources in favour of online content, like memes.

“I do know that a lot of media sources don’t appeal to younger crowds especially. I guess it’s a generational thing, but I think the [former] reliance on getting information from major networks, I feel like some people have lost confidence in them, or trust in them. I know that I do have a younger crowd following me, and when it comes to sharing information to the public about relevant information that affects our community . . . I do get to help certain groups of our community to be informed and stay informed,” they said.

So what is a meme? Is it just an image to be shared? In many ways, that simplicity is what makes memes appealing; they’re easy to access and they’re relatable. At the end of the day, memes are what you get out of them, whether that be a laugh shared with friends, or a slightly forceful exhale as you laugh on your own. 

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By: Rob Hardy

With society having been in the digital age for about two decades now, we are not unschooled in the many problems that technology can bring, along with its purported conveniences.  But with the explosive outreach of global communication and new smartphone apps every day, old problems are multiplying and morphing, while new ones are also rearing their ugly heads.

Viruses, Malware and Spyware are expanding their reach

It might seem all dandy that we have a plethora of tech options these days but the more avenues for digital plug-ins, the more opportunities for malicious programs to reach us. And with the number of devices most people have today, these problems now also easily spread to all of them, forcing us to debug not just our computers but phones and tablets as well.


Everything is becoming “linked in”

It feels convenient to have your Facebook linked to your email linked to your phone linked to everything else. But when our goals are to diligently divide our casual selves from a more cultivated professional image, sharing anything can cross paths and wind up on the wrong platform, clashing disastrously.

More automation means more to manage

Things going online have become a no-brainer that has made life convenient — until everything else did as well. Accessing your bank account, messages and grad school application on-the-go is a breeze, but multiply these online accounts by ten and suddenly having dozens of passwords, secret questions and website policies to keep up with is anything but effortless.

Even toasters are about to go digital

It's being sold as wonderful that we can now run our heating and home-security systems by using a smartphone. As the presence of these devices in our homes becomes normalizes, we are not paying enough attention to the security and privacy issues that arise. And fixing them will be hopelessly more elusive when they break down, as their very functionality depends on their electronic rather than mechanical components.


Meeting people often happens online

Gone are the days when we always met people face to face. Whether we are looking for employees or dating partners, we now demand to screen profiles so that abstract judgments can be made on whether to bother meeting for real. In this way, the days of scary science fiction have arrived. Don't like that “creepy” person on the bus? Just pretend that you need to text. It's a neat way to avoid unwanted interactions until you find yourself on the receiving end.

Advanced technology is disposable

It's ironic that with all the technological advances, things last for a much shorter time.  And when even “advanced warranties” lapse after a few short years, it's clear the company is telling you that whatever you are buying will break very quickly. Television sets used to last for 30 years — I still have one that works great. The future, however, is a landfill overflowing with broken electronics we have to perpetually replace, if we can even afford to do so.

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ISIS’ recent actions have had a global impact, especially the major attack on Paris that killed over a hundred people. There have been various reactions, but the response by the hacktivist group, Anonymous, has especially garnered attention. Anonymous is a hacking collective formed in 2004 with members from around the globe, and their latest target is ISIS. People have mixed feelings about the organization. They are difficult to track and could potentially release inaccurate information doing more harm than good. However, in the fight against ISIS, the people involved with Anonymous are exactly who we need to foil their future plans.

These people come from diverse backgrounds and include expert hackers as well as working professionals who engage in smaller scale online activism. The main issue with Anonymous’ activism is that because it is so quick to release data on specific persons of interest, there are many opportunities for error. The most productive way for Anonymous to operate would be in concert with intelligence agencies like CSIS and the CIA as opposed to freely releasing information to the masses independently.

Anonymous’ hacktivism is comparable to citizen journalism — there is no central power controlling the content that is released to the public, and fact-checking cannot occur until the information is out there. There is a reasonable amount of concern regarding Anonymous’ system of online politicking. Author of Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous, Gabriella Coleman, told CBC in a recent interview that she is very worried about “doxxing,” the practice of determining a person’s real identity and releasing it online. She notes that if anyone were incorrectly named, the ramifications could be disastrous for affected individuals.

While the vast majority of people generally agree that ISIS must be stopped, Anonymous’ methods of doing so can be questionable. For example, two Anonymous members hacked Australian and international government websites from Perth and Sydney in May 2014. They stole personal data, an act that resulted in their arrest. The Anonymous network must remember that just because it is capable of wreaking online havoc, it should still operate within legal boundaries. However, when a network is so extensive and there is no one at the helm of the operations, who is to be held accountable? More importantly, how do we find those involved? While one would like to believe Anonymous to be the Crime Stoppers of the online world, it can be dangerous to give individuals a platform to release highly sensitive and confidential information without considering national security. On the other hand, having a global network of people watching criminal organizations like ISIS also has its benefits.

This past summer, Anonymous affiliate, GhostSec, presented data collected after carefully monitoring ISIS social media accounts to U.S. national security. This intelligence helped prevent a planned attack in Tunisia. In addition, the group provided law enforcement with leads that were considered instrumental in foiling a terror plot in New York this past July. Third party groups like Anonymous have their merits. They are able to focus on smaller things that have far-reaching impacts. For example, Anonymous removed over 5,000 ISIS Twitter accounts recently in hopes of reducing their online presence and stopping the spread of propaganda. This act was the effort of many ordinary people coming together and mass reporting the accounts to Twitter. It is a means to distract, but also to prevent outreach to people abroad who may be susceptible to the misinformed temptations associated with joining ISIS.

Anonymous and online vigilantism have their flaws, but their value should not go unnoticed. We should be thankful for the members of Anonymous who do maintain correspondence with law enforcement because they have been crucial in identifying perpetrators in the past and will likely continue to do so. Rather than condemning a group that generally aims to create positive social change, we should find a way to ensure that they do not operate entirely separately from intelligence agencies in order to establish a systematic way of releasing accurate information to the public.

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By: Sasha Dhesi

When I was in the eleventh grade, I befriended a girl named Neba. It was a pretty typical friendship: we were two girls who understood each other’s situations, had mutual interests and talked every other day or so about our lives and whatever was taking up our time, whether it be school, music or anything else two 17-year-old teenagers would encounter. It was a typical friendship, save for one thing: we met online and have never seen each other in real life.

With the advent of new technology come innovative ways of using it. Many people will join online communities based off of a mutual interest, whether it’s something as simple as a mutual love for a TV character to sharing the same political beliefs, and it is common for people in these communities to reach out to each other and form relationships. Unlike many real life relationships, the friends you make online definitely have something in common with you.

Despite this, when you say, “I met so-and-so online,” you’re met with many discouraging questions surrounding the validity of your friend’s identity and their true intentions. Shows like Dateline: How to Catch a Predator and Catfish serve as aggressive reminders to what could happen to those who trust too easily.

But these are extremes that shouldn’t represent the norm. More often than not, online communities give people a chance to explore their interests with like-minded people and build lasting relationships when their offline world is depressing. This is especially true for LGBTQ+ folks who have the misfortune to live in homophobic areas or are uncomfortable talking about their sexuality with people in real life. This is also true for a kid who really likes art but couldn’t share it with her offline friends. If you were to interact with someone a few times a week for a year who connects with you in a way that people in your offline world don’t, that person is a friend. It doesn’t matter that those interactions occurred over a forum, a blog or a chat room.

In my experience, online friends give you an interesting perspective on your life: they’re aware of it, but due to the physical distance, they’re often able to give an impartial view. Your offline friends may be swayed by how charming your cruel boyfriend is, but your online friends, assuming you tell them what’s going on, will tell you what you need to hear. More often than not, the distance allows people to be more candid about their lives and garner the emotional support they need without the risk of having it brought out to their community. Online friends give people an outlet to express themselves without fear.

However there is room for this to be abused. There have been many cases in which people take advantage of someone’s vulnerability and hurt the person beyond compare. But this is a risk that is undertaken whether the relationship is online or off. To be in any sort of relationship, platonic and romantic, means to put yourself at risk of being hurt. A friend knows your fears and intimate details about you. It’s just as likely that you’ll meet a horrible person at a bar as it is online.

The Internet is a wonderful tool to find people who share your interests, and carries its own risks. Many friendships are formed through it, and even something as simple as recognizing someone’s username in a forum can lighten someone’s day.

As for Neba and I, we’re still friends today despite the fact that we both stopped using that forum last year, and both of us continue to have offline relationships of our own. Balance, after all, is key.

Photo Credit: Adam Roberts

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By: Sunanna Bhasin

In early September, the University of Toronto was on police alert due to an online threat targeted towards feminists and women’s studies students by user ‘KillFeminists’ in the comments section of the BlogTO website. Just a few days ago, a 22-year old in the U.K. was arrested and charged with malicious communications after posting an online threat against Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario on the website, 4chan. The man claimed it was intended as a joke, and that he did not believe himself to be a credible threat seeing as he lives across the globe and didn’t understand North American “paranoia” when it came to online threats. Thankfully, this was a false alarm, however, at the time we weren’t discussing internet security in Canada, we were discussing the “threat” of the niqab.

During the election, incumbent Conservative leader, Stephen Harper, made it a priority to ban the niqab and used Islamophobia to attract to the polls. He attempted to instil fear in Canadians — mainly of Islam — by introducing Bill C-51 as well as the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act. Presented as legislation that protects immigrant women and girls on the government website, it is hard to believe that women’s rights are the motivation behind the bills considering the lack of inquiry into the missing and murdered Indigenous women across Canada. Rather, this type of legislation is divisive and singling out a group of Canadians as a means of propagating the belief that terrorism is a one-dimensional threat that stems solely from one group of individuals.

Instead of targeting niqab-clad Muslim women in the name of women’s rights, perhaps the real target should be young people on the internet who think it’s okay to make threats as long as there is a screen separating them from the victims. In fact, the Canadian government would be better off spending its resources on educating its citizens about the seriousness of cyber-bullying and posting inappropriate content online as opposed to telling Muslim women that they are overly modest.

If the government is truly concerned about being unable to see the women’s faces, then wouldn’t the Internet be significantly more worrisome? Online, users can not only create false identities, but also create believable fake lives, making it difficult to hold individuals accountable. It is probably in Canadians’ best interests to focus on accountability online — after all, threatening someone in person is an offence.  Controversial websites like 4chan that do not monitor or moderate inappropriate content or threats should create rules for what constitutes acceptable online behaviour. Given the frequency of school shootings in the United States, and the communities these shooters sometimes seek out online, it would be best to direct our attention to sites that encourage users to make threats all in “good fun”.

The Canadian government needs to realize that terrorism is not restricted to a certain culture, or a single religious group. It is time to redefine terrorism to encompass all terrorist acts, instead of attempting to quarantine those who are not at fault. If a woman’s niqab is unsettling because it covers her face, then ban the parka, the ski mask, and the scarf — now isn’t that ridiculous? I don’t know about Mr. Harper, but I’ll be bundling up this winter, and I should be able to do so however and for whatever reason I want.

Photo Credit: The Toronto Star

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By: Imaiya Ravichandran 

I, and I’m sure many of you as well (at least, I hope), visit Youtube at least once a day. Whether it is to watch the latest viral video, or to indulge in the obligatory daily dose of cute kitten videos, over one billion unique users fall victim to the endless abyss of funny, intriguing, and flat out weird content conveniently catalogued on this website. Standing alongside giant television and movie conglomerates, it is somewhat surprising that this start-up, rooted in humble beginnings above a Japanese restaurant in California, managed to become one of the world’s primary sources of entertainment.  Of course, this incredible feat can be attributed to the accessibility and flexibility of the Internet, which most people prefer to the rigidity of TV and movie schedules. However, now that TV and movies are becoming increasingly available online, what else can explain Youtube’s continued success? Perhaps the answer lies in the modern “Youtube celebrity” whose content provides an inimitable degree of intimacy with its viewers.

There are several reasons why one would favour the approachable, flawed Youtuber instead of the inhumanly attractive celebrity. Though I shamelessly admire George Clooney in all his pepper-hair glory on screen, or hysterically shriek at the TV whenever Queen Bey performs, I am aware that these personalities are performing for legions of devoted fans. There is no true sense of connection between them and myself, although I often trick myself into believing otherwise (in a superficial sense…I’m not a stalker, guys). However, when interacting with a Youtube celebrity, this buffer is all but completely eradicated. Their content is so personal and genuine that you lose sight of the other hundreds of thousands of subscribers who are also closely bonding with the Youtuber in question. The reverence once felt towards the distant celebrity is now replaced with a new type of admiration, one that is summed up by the phrase: “they’re just like us!”

But they’re not just like us. In addition to surprisingly hefty salaries, Youtube celebrities possess a type of clout that many would argue is more powerful than that of their Hollywood celebrity counterparts. It stems from their uniquely close relationship with their viewers. While their following may not be as large as a traditional celebrity’s, the reach that they do have is much more influential. We put Youtubers on a pedestal, trusting them as we would a dear friend.

And so, it was understandably appalling for many Youtube audiences when news broke in March 2014 that two beloved British Youtubers, Tom Milsom and Alex Day, had been accused of sexual misconduct with multiple viewers.

In Milsom’s case, Tumblr user Olga accused him of emotionally and sexually abusing her throughout the course of their relationship; at the time of their courtship, she was only 15 and he was 21. Day’s accusers, eight in total, provided various accounts of sordid experiences with the popular vlogger, with the two most harrowing being of him coercing women to sleep with him – by definition, him engaging in rape. Milsom and Day were the second and third artists signed to the Youtube-centric record label DFTBA to be accused of some sort of sexual misconduct. Only a month earlier, former label-mate Mike Lombardo was sentenced to five years in jail for possession of child pornography.

I had been subscribed to Alex Day, or “nerimon” as he is known on Youtube, since I was 13 years old.  As a staunch feminist, to hear of him and his friend’s atrocious behavior was certainly infuriating and disgusting, but first and foremost it was disappointing. It was profoundly different than if an elusive, unattainable celebrity had committed a crime. Here was a figure that I had looked up to, who I had laughed with, whose struggles and triumphs it felt like I had shared in. I was not alone in my attachment to Alex, nor in the blow that followed when my trust in him was breached. The allegations against Alex originated as blog posts on Tumblr. The diary-esque nature of the posts lent themselves to a cathartic release of his victims’   frustrations and disturbing tales of how they too had once admired Alex, only to have him use his position of power in an unmistakably inappropriate fashion.

The scandal elicited an impassioned response from the Youtube community. Response videos spread like wildfire, DFTBA swiftly dropped Day and Milsom from their roster, and a general call was made for increased discourse about the rampant presence of sexual abuse, sexism, and abuses of power in the Youtube community. The trope of an authoritative figure manipulating a less powerful victim is deeply embedded within the mores of the entertainment industry. However, it is especially pernicious in the Youtube context because it is a space in which large masses of potential victims feel safe with and close to their potential manipulators.

A small number of critics suggest that audience members guard themselves more warily against famous Youtubers. To always remember that there is a computer screen separating you and that charming British vlogger, and that you can never know anything more than what is depicted in a mere three minute long video. But I resent this suggestion. It goes without saying that it is important to be safe on the internet. It is equally important (and obvious) that one should not blindly trust a celebrity. However, to encourage barriers and distance between viewers and Youtubers would be to erode the very essence of openness upon which the Youtube community is built. If we teach viewers to not grow attached to a Youtuber, should they also not wear short skirts when walking along a street? Or have a drink before going out? Hopefully, you can understand the preposterous nature of these recommendations. They unjustly shift the onus from the Youtubers, who should be cognizant of their powerful positions and not exploit them, to the audience.

I bring all this up because recently, another Youtuber named Sam Pepper has come under fire for sexual misconduct, which he brazenly displays in multiple of his videos.  Moreover, after a seven-month hiatus, Alex Day returned to Youtube with a video entitled “The Past”, in which he embarks on a half-hour tangent detailing a slew of feeble excuses “defending” his past conduct.  I’m comforted that a sizeable portion of comments express contempt towards both Sam and Alex’s actions, adjudicating that sexual abuse and its perpetrators have no place in the Youtube community. However, the remaining reactions form a considerably large group who claim solidarity with the ostracized Youtubers. They suggest that “Youtube give them a second chance.” I wonder why these people feel this way. Most do not dispute the accuracy of the allegations against the Youtubers, nor do they challenge the severity of their crimes. Rather, they harken back to videos of the past, ones that depict their fallen heroes in all their charming, charismatic glory.  And then, I realize that they too are victims, in some sense, of the intoxicating Youtube celebrity.

On Aug. 6, 2014, Twitch, a website used to stream user-generated videogame content, announced that they would be adopting a Content ID system to their videos, muting any archived videos that had copyright content. This is a very big deal. This change once against reflects a dated system of copyright that cannot keep up with the ever-changing technological landscape of the internet, and a growing imbalance of power amongst large corporations and independent content creators.

So what is Content ID? To those who aren’t familiar, it’s a system that automatically scans videos for audio content that is believed to infringe upon copyrighted material, and automatically removes it. This system was added December 2013 to YouTube, and has since migrated to Twitch as well.

While this may seem like an effective way to reduce the risk of legal action against Twitch or its users, this change marks a growing trend in the way online media is legally regulated, and has some serious drawbacks in terms of censorship and monopolization. This is because Content ID simply doesn’t work.

Because the system is automatic, there is often little way to tell if the creator actually owns the content, as the system just scans a database of existing audio files, and removes or mutes the videos as needed. This means that thousands of Twitch streamers and YouTubers have had their content removed automatically without warning, often with little way to fight it, even if they have acquired the appropriate rights.

As a result, companies like Valve have had their videos muted on Twitch, because they possessed copyrighted music inside the Dota 2 video game, despite them being the creators of the very game that was removed. The number of legal redundancies this system creates is seemingly endless, and unfortunately not everyone has the power to stop it.

Now some of you might be thinking: “What’s the harm? Can’t one simply stop using copyrighted material and avoid this problem altogether?” Well, that is where things get complicated. The problem is that copyright law in Canada and the United States simply hasn’t evolved quickly enough to deal with the growing amount of user-generated content.

For those unfamiliar, copyright systems in the United States and Canada both work under an exception that allows the use of copyrighted material if it is for research, educational purposes, criticism, review or news reporting, to name a few. In Canada this system is known as fair dealing, and in the United States this system is known as fair use. While the systems differ, both work on a case-by-case basis, and because of this many cases are decided by a judge.

If you aren’t seeing the problem, I’ll make it simple. There are not enough judges in the world to handle the amount of new material that YouTube and Twitch users produce. This means that most people burned by the automatic system of Content ID have no way to combat unfair regulation, leaving many smaller known users simply out of luck.

It seems as time passes the Internet is beginning to lose the freedoms and opportunities it once offered, slowly returning power to big businesses. It is time for North America and the world to address a growing issue stifling the freedoms of independent content creators. It is time to bring copyright law into an age of new media.

Most people understand that net neutrality is a good thing. It stands for what we want our governments to guarantee us: Equality. Liberty. And a decent Wi-Fi connection.

And really, in the year 2014, where half of our lives are happening somewhere in safety of fiber optic cables, sitting right next to gifs of cats and videos of people dumping ice cold water on themselves, that’s all the average citizen needs to lead a content life.

The thing is, because the internet has become more than a place to store pictures of food, because we’ve let it become more than that, we now have a responsibility to ourselves to make it worth something.

When one spends as much time online as our generation, it’s hard to look at the internet objectively and think of it as a separate entity. Everything we do, say, and contribute online becomes part of it. We know the internet exists because we use it, yet we’re somehow comfortable with allowing the platform to be shaped without our consent. The majority of us have gotten too comfortable being simply consumers of the virtual world and we’ve ignored its architecture and structure for our own convenience.

For many in the US, the Federal Commission on Communication’s (FCC) fight against net neutrality was the much-needed call to action. It was too big of a change, too quickly. People have grown to love their independent Youtube artists and cheap Netflix, so they’re speaking out.

But for us in Canada, this topic may seem irrelevant. Internet lanes will still be equal up here even if the FCC shows its ugly side.

While it’s true that Canadians won’t suffer as much as Americans if net neutrality ceases to exist in the States, we still suffer from the same monopolization of Internet service.

The cause behind net neutrality is the large amount of corporate interest involved. Companies need to make more money because that’s just how running a business works. It’s net neutrality today, but it might another thing tomorrow. It might be more restrictions and one profit-oriented decision after another. As internet becomes a commodity people need rather than want, these companies have higher incentives to hike up prices and do as they wish with the internet we’ve built.

We, as consumers, pay a high price to access Internet services. Not only do we pay our monthly fees, we also provide endless amounts of data that companies can sell to third parties.

As it exists right now, the Internet isn’t here to encourage global or even local dialogue. It isn’t here to serve the average citizen who wants to use it as a window to the world. Right now, our Internet is used to sell you things and take things from you so it can sell them to other people.

Those who want net neutrality to be a basic principle of the web say that it is necessary to maintain an open web. But that’s assuming that our web is already open and free.

In Canada, Bell and Rogers control most of the Internet service provided. If you don’t buy it directly from them, then your service provider pays them a sum to use their lines.

Our internet can’t be free and open if it is controlled by two major companies with their own interests which won’t always align with the interests of the Canadian public.

Changing the conversation around net neutrality might be too hard, and considering that large companies like Google and Netflix have joined the activist ranks, a focus on the inherent unfairness of the internet isn’t very likely to emerge.

But when it comes to the internet, the medium for international conversation and the keeper of many aspects of our personal lives, we can’t continue fighting the little battles and silently suffocate under the shadows of Internet giants.

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