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2017 Digital Trend of the Year was a Tie

Herald Journal
#MeToo, alt nat'l park accounts top USU Digital Folklore Project trends


Scholars from Utah State University’s Digital Folklore Project declared a tie — a first in the project’s four-year history — between Twitter handles like @AltUSNatParkService and the #MeToo movement. The panel considered trends suggested by members of the campus community and the general public.

“I will admit, I was a little bit surprised,” said Lynne McNeill, USU assistant professor of English. “I was expecting #MeToo to sweep it unconditionally.”


But she appreciated the fact that two trends tied.

“I feel like the tie is really bringing together that … we don’t just have a singular issue this year,” McNeill said. “There’s all these different fronts on which people want their voices heard, and we’re seeing that reflected in these top two contenders.”

Alternative government social media accounts became a trend in January after the official Badlands National Park account began tweeting statistics about climate change, defying an apparent effort by the Trump administration to suppress government accounts sharing such information. The tweets were deleted a few hours later, but it didn’t stop the more than 100 “alt government” social media accounts from being created.

“I think people like them because there’s a little bit of a trickster to them,” Thomas said. “But it’s not a real mean, trolling kind of trickster. … It’s witty; it’s cheeky. I think that’s why it was so attractive.”

The hashtag #MeToo was posted by women — famous or not — who stated they experienced some form of sexual misconduct in their lives. It gained traction after a series of reports alleging several prominent people in entertainment, politics and other industries had engaged in such conduct. Those reports and people’s accounts led TIME Magazine to select “The Silence Breakers” as the 2017 Person of the Year.

“We see this idea of people refusing to be silenced,” McNeill said. “That’s a wonderful use of social media.”

The hashtag that took the No. 2 spot was #TakeAKnee, referring to many professional athletes who knelt during the National Anthem to protest police brutality and racial inequality. That action would later morph into a protest against President Donald Trump calling for National Football League boycotts and firing players who knelt.

“When we first started this (Digital Folklore Project), I thought it’d be memes all the time we’d be naming,” Thomas said. “One of the things this shows me is how much people engage with political and social justice issues.”

Speaking of the president, one Trump tweet made the top digital trends list this year.


Hashtag #covfefe became popular among Trump’s critics after he posted a tweet with a typo in it. The president initially tweeted “Despite the constant negative press covfefe,” and the unfinished tweet remained on the account for hours. It was eventually deleted, but by then, the “word” had spread as people joked about what the “covfefe” could mean and speculated about why the apparent mistake lingered for so long on such a high-profile account.

Then-White House spokesman Sean Spicer added fuel to the covfefe the next day, telling the press that “the president and a small group of people know exactly what he meant.”

“People could really just have a good laugh about it,” McNeill said. “It became sort of this keyword for, I think, for just sort of the nonsense, the element of the ridiculous, that infuses a lot of the stuff we’re dealing with today.”

Thomas commented on how many social trends made the top spots for the Digital Folklore Project as opposed to memes.

“I think what’s happening is we had a unique moment in American history, and that’s really being reflected here,” Thomas said. “We had a president who was very much stylistically, and in terms of substance, too, unlike anything else we had ever seen before.”

Thomas hopes people don’t forget that the Digital Folklore Project is about “everyday people and what they’re passing around in an informal or folk way.”

A fitting theme for 2016: USU folklorists say creepy clowns year’s hottest internet trend

Logan, UT
 –  Utah State University researchers don’t clown around when it comes to determining what trends dominated the internet in 2016.

USU’s Digital Folklore Project has named the “creepy clowns” phenomenon as the 2016 Digital Trend of the Year. The winner is selected by ballot among folklorists nationwide who look at such factors as cultural significance and whether the trend fits the grassroots, common-people usage that identifies it as folklore.

Jeannie Thomas, who with Lynne McNeill directs the DFP, noted that while sightings of the terrorizing bozos have slowed in recent weeks, history has seen many cycles of this “rumor-legend complex.”

“So, I expect the clowns will be back,” said Thomas, who is also head of USU’s English Department.

“You know,” she jokes, “if you’re a clown lurking in the woods now, those large, red shoes won’t give you any traction in the ice and snow.”

In second place was #NoDAPL and #StandingRock, a social justice-themed trend made popular by those joining the Standing Rock Sioux Nation in protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline, said Thomas.

The spring 2016 gathering at North Dakota’s Standing Rock camp was an old-fashioned folk protest, but it quickly became a digital movement, said Thomas. Selfies and other images of individuals worldwide raising their fists in solidarity were widely shared, she said, with the result that “a classic folk gesture was turned into a social-media trend.”

The creepy clown craze, while an interesting trend in itself, quickly became a means for people to comment on socially and cultural significance events like the presidential election, said Thomas.

McNeill, an assistant professor of English, agreed, adding that 2016 saw a massive up swelling of digital folk commentary, largely thanks to a contentious political landscape.

"The election created the perfect environment for memes of all kinds to emerge as people sought to express their feelings through shared cultural content,” she said.