Memes, Movements and Mobs

Social media, like fire, is a good servant but a bad master. It is a double-edged sword which can bring out the best and worst in people - often within the same hour. If you can manage it well, it can lead you quickly into the limelight. However, if you fail to understand its forces, social media can be like a terrifying tsunami - an unearthly force which leads to disastrous outcomes.

The irony is this. While some hanker after attention yet fail to receive any, others try all means to shy away from the spotlight but fail miserably.

What makes a Facebook update, Tweet or YouTube video "go viral"? Why do some ideas spread faster and more widely than others?

To understand this, let us consider the 3 Ms of the digital social age: Memes, Mobs and Movements.


Courtesy of

An Internet meme according to Wikipedia is "an idea, style or action which spreads, often as mimicry, from person to person via the Internet, while imitating the concept." Memes may be images, hyperlinks, hashtags, pictures, videos, words or phrases.

Often, memes are augmented by the persons spreading the message. In other words, they will customise their content and give it a unique personal touch before disseminating it outwards to their networks.

Memes are usually innocuous and fairly harmless in nature. Examples include the cutesy "gwiyomi" song and pose, planking, photobombs, Chinese photo-shop pranks and a whole lot more here. These are mostly short-lived and temporal.


Unlike the ephemeral and ad-hoc nature of memes, movements tend to be more structured and purposeful. Rooted in passion, emotion and a propensity for action, movements will increasingly be a way of life for many.

Spurred by our natural propensity to form tribes, movements are usually led by a champion with a strong sense of mission and purpose. In the digital age, they are catalysed by social networks which allow online communities to aggregate around causes and interests.

Movements can be as large as political upheavals which overthrow governments to smaller grassroot actions to preserve the environment or feed the poor. While some have sustained themselves on an enduring basis, others are more seasonal.


Courtesy of The Simpsons Movie

The final social phenomena - online mobs - can either be comforting or scary, depending on where you happen to stand. Like it or loathe it, we are living in the age of digital vigilantism. One where ill-conceived comments could cost you your livelihood, home and even friendship.

Justice, when served by the mob, can be ruthless and relentless. Just ask Amy Cheong, whose negative remarks on Malay void deck weddings got her booted out of Singapore to Perth. More recently, British expat banker Anton Casey's comments on "poor people" in Singapore led to an online furore which forced him to leave his job, home and friends. 

While some consider online lynch mobs to be close to cyber bullying, others feel that justice is served by the community.

What are your thoughts on the 3Ms? Can we harness their powers to move the masses in fruitful and productive ways?

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