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The Birth Reddit, Weird Life, and Afterlife of an Internet Meme

The Birth Reddit, Weird Life, and Afterlife of an Internet Meme Posted on November 26, 2019Leave a comment

A Facebook post from a friend showed me just how much my original graphic had been adapted.

My jaw hit the keyboard… that was my image, but it also wasn’t my image. It was the concept behind my image, but completely redrawn (and by someone with actual artistic talent!). I was stunned… and delighted.

WIRED OPINIONAbout

Craig Froehle is a business professor at the University of Cincinnati. His research and teaching focus on service and healthcare delivery systems.

How did this happen? Back in 2012, shortly after the US elections, I crafted a graphic to illustrate my point in an argument I was having with a conservative activist. I was trying to clarify why, to me (and, I generalized, to liberals), “equal opportunity” alone wasn’t a satisfactory goal and that we should somehow take into consideration equality of outcomes (i.e., fairness or equity). I thought the easiest example of this concept would be kids of different heights trying to see over a fence. So I grabbed a public photo of Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park, a stock image of a crate, clip art of a fence, and then spent a half-hour in PowerPoint concocting an image that I then posted on Google+.

My original post (below) racked up around 3,000 +1s and over 1,000 shares, which was amazing to me, especially given that at the time Google+ was barely 18 months old.

Craig Froehle

I felt pretty satisfied, but I didn’t consider what was happening to all those G+ reshares and beyond. A few weeks after I posted the image, Jonathan Haidt, a professor of ethical leadership at NYU’s Stern School of Business, asked permission to use it in his presentations and articles. Here’s Dr. Haidt discussing the original image in a talk he gave at Duke University in 2013.

But, unbeknownst to me, as the Internet is so wonderfully amazing at doing, my original graphic was being modified and repurposed in a variety of ways, and then shared and redistributed all over the place. I decided to use the magic of Google to track how the image has evolved over time.

ADAPTATIONSThere are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of iterations, some with wording changes, some that convey a slightly different idea. This early revision replaced my original words to differentiate equality from justice.

Original source unknown

This equality/justice version became fairly widespread and was published in the Huffington Post in 2014.

Meanwhile, the late blogger Joe Bowergot straight to the point differentiating equality from fairness in this mid-2013 adaptation.

Original source unknown: Reddit lol

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