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Physically distanced college students find solidarity with social media challenges, memes

As COVID-19 keeps college students home and away from friends, many turn to social media to fill their time and continue connecting with each other.  

In addition to Duke Memes for Gothicc Teens, a Facebook group for Duke students to share University-related memes, college students across the country have shared their humor on another public Facebook group entitled Zoom Memes for Self Quaranteens.

The group features a collection of Tweets, gifs, and other memes that focus on common issues for teenagers across the country during social distancing, including the oddities of online learning, anxieties of losing out on summer and going stir-crazy in their homes.

Simultaneously, one of the biggest Instagram trends primarily took root amongst women. They posted solo photos of themselves on their Instagram stories with the hashtag “#challengeaccepted” and would then tag more friends to participate.

“With all the negativity going around, let’s do something positive,” read the message that many women included with their photos. “Upload one picture of you...only you. Then, tag 10 beautiful women to do the same!”

Another Instagram trend commonly referred to as “Until Tomorrow” soon followed, with the opposite intentions of #challengeaccepted. Users posted embarrassing photos of themselves with the caption “until tomorrow” and deleted them after twenty-four hours. 

Many of the posted photos included silly childhood photos, post-wisdom teeth removal selfies and caught-off-guard shots at various locations.

The game was intended to be a secret; if one user liked the “until tomorrow” photo that another posted, they would receive a direct message from the original poster telling them it was their turn to do the challenge.

Many users enjoyed seeing a sillier side of their peers that aren’t normally exposed on social media.

“I thought that one was fun,” wrote sophomore Catherine McMillan in an e-mail. “It allowed people to show a side of themselves that typically isn’t represented on platforms like Instagram, which tend to broadcast unrealistic beauty standards and lifestyles.”

Instagram and Snapchat stories have also been lighting up with Bingo memes. Users have created boards for different topics, such as Duke dorms, clubs and organizations and Greek life. 

The boards expand outside of Duke, with many students completing boards for their high schools or hometowns.

Thirty-day song challenges have also made an appearance on Instagram stories. Each day of the challenge, users post a song from Spotify that fits the theme given for that day; for example, “a song you discovered this month” or “a song that makes you cry.”

While the challenges are meant to be fun, as more and more users start to catch on, the amount of content can become overwhelming. McMillan enjoyed scrolling through the “until tomorrow” posts, but others are starting to do more harm than good to her experience.

“I haven’t participated in any social media challenges,” wrote McMillan. “I think a lot of them clog up the story feed, especially the bingo boards and 30 day song challenge. I really don’t have the time to engage meaningfully with any of them.”

McMilan also wrote that she has started to “give up trying” to finish swiping through challenges after a certain point.

Other users are more eager to contribute as a form of stress relief for both themselves and their friends.

First-year Annie Tighe told The Chronicle in an e-mail that she participated in the chain-of-fruit trend. One user draws and personifies a fruit—oranges in Tighe’s case—on his or her Instagram story and tags friends to participate, who then continue the chain of fruit drawings. 

“I believe that social media should be used to the extent that it makes the user feel happy and connected with friends,” she wrote. “If someone finds joy in sharing their summer camp bingo board or 30 day song challenge, so be it.”

While users like Tighe use social media as a means of staying connected with friends, some have also utilized their platforms to spread awareness for important issues.

Recently, Duke students have been participating in The 12 Challenge on Instagram, named in honor of the fact that 12% of college students report having thoughts of suicide. It was started by Here for You Duke, an organization striving to promote mental health awareness on campus.

According to the Instagram post by @hereforyouduke, the challenge instructs users to “commit to a challenge of doing 12 of something” and then tag others to do the same. Examples of what participants have done are sharing videos of themselves doing twelve pushups, twelve pictures with people they miss or twelve of their favorite songs.

The 12 Challenge has received some backlash for perceiving to "trivialize the severity of the issue."

Duke’s Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity also used Instagram and Facebook Live to stream brothers shaving their heads for Shave and Buzz 2020, their annual charity event.

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