Some memes go viral, and the storming of Area 51 meme is no exception. If you’ve missed the memo while scrolling down your social media feeds, there is currently an event on Facebook trending, inviting people to join together and storm Area 51 collectively. So far, over 1.6 million users have clicked ‘attending’ with 1.2. million ‘interested’—and the number only keeps growing.
‘Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us’ is the name of the event that has now turned into an internet joke, with thousands of memes circulating everywhere. “If we naruto run, we can move faster than their bullets. Lets see them aliens”, says the description of the event. So what is the plan? To meet up at 3 am on 20 September 2019 and jointly storm the heavily patrolled Area 51 (an open training range belonging to the U.S. Air Force), of course. The joke is that, we, as internet users and meme enthusiasts, can barge in on the government and uncover their secrets, all in the name of humour.
Firstly, why is Area 51 so protected? It is a facility within the Nevada Test and Training Range, a detachment of the Edwards Air Force Base (officially going by the name of Homey Airport and Groom Lake). Like many military facilities across the globe, its primary use is hidden from the public. Some conspiracy theorists believe that the U.S. government is hiding information on UFOs and that Area 51 is the biggest base holding captured aliens.
These theories began circulating when a man named Bob Lazar claimed he worked at Area 51’s ‘Sector Four’, while he was apparently contracted to work on alien spacecrafts. There is no verification to his claims, nor is there proof of his academic qualifications that would enable him to acquire this position in the first place, yet Lazar maintains that all such evidence was erased by the government. He has since appeared in interviews, Joe Rogan’s podcast, and even had a Netflix documentary filmed about him. Popular culture played a role in creating the associations between the military base and aliens, but there is no physical proof of this. It is unlikely that the research base holds any aliens captive, so raiding the premises to “see them aliens” would, quite frankly, be a waste of time.
But why are we taking this joke so far? The answer is simple—because of how meme culture works. Memes have become such a common part of our internet experience that we began incorporating them into our daily lives. Millennials and Gen Zs began forming tight-knit online communities of different demographics, with forums largely consisting of memes. They allow one to connect to others, gain a sense of belonging, and stay relevant within the digital realm.
Therefore, memes and internet phenomenons have a tendency to blow out of proportion and merge with reality. We’ve seen the bottle cap challenge go viral in recent weeks, criticized for being unsustainable and promoting pollution, the Kylie Jenner lip challenge a few years back, and one that deserves honorary mention—the Tide Pod challenge.
Remember the start of 2018? What began as a meme gone viral soon turned into an online challenge where people would film themselves eating tide pods, daring others to do the same—with some, even cooking elaborate meals using tide pods prior to consumption. The American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) reported 37 cases of pod digestion among teens, with half of them intentional. Tide had to urge people to stop eating them, and Facebook and YouTube began deleting videos of people consuming these. Eventually, supermarkets and corner shops began locking up tide pods and other laundry detergent products.
Why would a human consciously choose to eat a tide pod, you may ask—no one can say for sure, but what is clear is that meme culture has really gotten out of hand. So, are we actually going to storm Area 51? History does tend to repeat itself, and so there is no doubt that at least a small group of people might show up. With many hotels, campsites, and Airbnbs around the area fully booked out for these dates, it seems that some people are taking this joke more seriously than others.
Here is the thing, then. I don’t want to sound like a killjoy, but raiding Area 51 is a bad idea. The U.S. government does not find it funny, with a spokesperson telling the Washington Post the Air Force is “ready to protect America and its assets”. With ‘no trespassing’ signs all around the base warning that “failure to do so can result in the use of deadly force”, the message should be clear to anyone attempting to get in. The title of the event might state “They Can’t Stop All of Us”, well, they very much can.
Even CNN is currently trying to stop people from raiding Area 51 with a collection of memes, which is obviously an effective form of communication. After all, memes are what got us talking about this matter in the first place. Facebook user Jackson Barnes, who jokingly created the initial ‘game plan’ on how to storm Area 51 had to go as far as to write, “Hello US government, this is a joke, and I do not actually intend to go ahead with this plan”, not wanting to take any responsibility for those who plan to go ahead with this idea.
It is evident that the joke is getting a little out of hand. It might die out in a few weeks like most internet phenomenons, or it might keep snowballing—and if it does, then it is uncertain what will happen or who actually has the power to put an end to all this. Until then, ‘Storm Are 51’ merch is available for sale, as a joke or not. That’s the internet for you.
For a great many of us, the prospect of a world without Instagram or Facebook is simply inconceivable. It is easier to imagine a reality in which oxygen is no longer free than to picture one in which likes and Stories are nonexistent. But the surging popularity of a new Chinese app called TikTok may be signalling the twilight of the Facebook app dynasty (including Instagram and Messenger) and the rise of a new ruler of the social media realm. In 2018, TikTok’s download rates surpassed those of Instagram and Facebook, and have continued to rise in the past few months throughout the U.S., Europe, and Southeast Asia.
TikTok is one of the most recent creations by ByteDance—a Beijing based tech company that produces machine learning-enabled content platforms. TikTok’s first incarnation emerged in 2016 in the form of Douyin—a media app for sharing and creating videos exclusively for the Chinese market. In 2017, ByteDance merged the Chinese app Musical.ly (which was highly popular in the West) with Douyin to create TikTok, an app that resembles Snapchat but centres exclusively around enhanced micro-video content. The merge with Musical.ly proved to be seamless, as the majority of the former app’s users and influencers quickly adapted to TikTok.
Initially, TikTok did not pose a significant threat to social media behemoths such as Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Snapchat. But the tide is rapidly turning.
Ensnared in myriad scandals, the public’s trust in Facebook has been steadily plunging, and along with it its stock value. Last year, the company lost $120 billion after warnings that its revenue growth will plummet. But sizzling scandals and stock-market undulations are not the only soft-spots of Facebook, as its primary flaw seems to be its inability to appeal to the youth. With its flagship app gradually becoming a virtual nursing home—where grandmas and millennials vent their scorn and stalk old lovers who may not even be alive at this point—and Instagram failing to penetrate the Gen Z market, the Facebook ‘family’ appears to be in the early stages of its downfall. For a moment, Snapchat seemed to be the next ‘it’ app, but that hope never materialised.
This is where TikTok beats them all. The youth, which appears to be increasingly interested in the app’s features and responds favourably to its user interface is migrating to the platform en masse.
Unlike other social media apps, TikTok’s function is fairly limited, as all it enables users to do is create 15-second videos and share them with their network. Yet ByteDance managed to tap right into the core of youth’s fascination with micro-video content that’s light and entertaining, by offering a wide variety of effects and editing options (something that’s lacking from Facebook and Instagram stories). And so TikTok serves Gen Z and soon Alpha precisely what they’re after—content that is live, short, potentially-viral, and, well… silly.
The app’s popularity has been exploding over the past year. In 2018, TikTok was the fourth most downloaded non-game app, with 663 million new downloads, surpassing Instagram which gained 444 new downloads. In the App store alone, TikTok’s download rates exceeded those of Facebook, Messenger, and WhatsApp. Should the numbers remain steady, TikTok can be expected to surpass Facebook and Instagram in overall popularity worldwide (let us not forget that it also dominates the Southeast Asian market, something that Western apps are unable to do due to censorship barriers).
The conquering of the social media landscape by TikTok could have several ramifications. Firstly, it would most likely alter the way in which the future generation communicates, with words and pictures replaced by short, heavily edited memes.
It would also generate significant changes in the market, which currently relies heavily on the models of existing social media platforms, such as Instagram. In a TikTok-dominated world, influences, businesses, and corporations will have to find a new way to promote their products, capture the attention of buyers, and adapt to new metrics indicating popularity and profitability.
Finally, what would be the consequences of having a Chinese company owning all our social-media data? This question may be too vague to answer with certainty, but China’s policies regarding censorship, surveillance, and curtailing of freedom of speech sure make this prospect unsettling (to put it mildly).
On a more personal level, a TikTok takeover gives us a chance to reexamine our interaction with social media. Before replicating our virtual lives onto yet another platform we, the veterans of the social media revolution, must ask ourselves: where are we going with this? Do these platforms contribute to or impede our personal and spiritual growth? What toll have they been taking on our mental wellbeing? Can our thoughts and feelings and aspirations be effectively expressed in a 15-second video? And what would be the consequences for doing so?
The rise of TikTok gives us a golden opportunity to question. To prioritise. To reconsider the value of life beyond the screen.