Memetic diasporas and platform capitalism


In December 2018, Tumblr users received a cold shower when huge quantities of their NSFW contents were canceled practically overnight. Scraping bots, put to work by the memetic community and by the sex-positive LGBTQ+ movements that had found their home on Tumblr since 2006, were of little use. Why did this happen? Following accusations involving child pornography, Apple had decided to remove Tumblr from its App Store, leaving its then-owner Yahoo no choice but to cancel all NSFW-content hosted on its servers.

Following this episode, many Tumblr users decided to look for a new home. It was not the first time that a subcultural web community was exiled from its old home. Social Media Diasporas are moments of truth: a strain is put on the affected community. Sometimes, this can lead to its dissolvement; but most of the time, it is able to find itself in a new niche in the social web, growing more self-aware and determined in the process.

During such migrations, shared hallmarks are what keeps communities together: a common tone of voices, inside jokes, a set of symbols or a shared aesthetic can help the bewildered users to recognize their peers. This is what happened to the OC (Original Content) community as well, a meme community originally coming from Tumblr and Weird Facebook, and which today can be found mainly on Instagram.

Its aesthetic echoes vaporwave, seapunk, gothcore and all the numerous aesthetics that populated Tumblr from 2010 onwards. Like late 2014 Tumblr and Pinterest users, OC creators give great attention to proper crediting, while also frequently endorsing a gender-fluid and sex-positive attitude.

The OC community raises new questions regarding the rights of content creators and memers, an issue now more urgent than ever due to the emerging use of NFT tech in digital art. Is a “meme d'auteur” still a meme? Shouldn’t content creators be rewarded? Or alternatively, should all the community, collectively creating a powerful aesthetic or set of hallmarks, share the reward instead?

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