How we Re-designed Memes to Provide Credible Information and Raise Awareness on Social Media about Coronavirus(COVID-19)

Who does not like a good meme? For meme lovers we know memes are the master art for conveying messages on everyday life experiences in the most sarcastic and humorous manner. This unique and even somewhat special characteristic is what makes meme pervasive on social media. Just maybe, if you are one of those people and already started wondering what the heck a Meme is; according to Oxford Dictionary, “memes are images, video, piece of text, etc., typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by Internet users”. Because memes are easily copied and spread rapidly, they make a good desirable communication tool albeit sarcastic and humorous. Who doesn’t like to see a picture with a text that puts a grin on their face? I believe most people do, especially those of us who are social media enthusiasts.

So, if memes are so good, taking into account their nature to be easily spread around by internet users, why are their use only limited to sarcasm or humor? I mean wouldn’t they be the perfect tool to pass on actual serious information? Well if you are thinking yes, then we are on the same page(pun intended). That is why recently, I lead a design expedition at an organization I founded called “Bush Tinker”, to create memes that can spread credible sensitization and awareness information on Corona Virus (COVID-19) among Sierra Leoneans on social media. At “Bush Tinker”, our memes are a little different but they generally follow the same rules as all types of memes (image and text) you have ever come across in your whole social media life. However, we did our memes to be specific to guide all Sierra Leonean meme lovers to credible COVID-19 sensitization and awareness raising messages and also specifically targeting Sierra Leoneans on social media. So, if you are wondering how we re-designed or tweaked memes to fit COVID-19 messages targeting Sierra Leoneans, here is how we did it:

1. Images: Images make up the canvass for memes and most times these images are screenshots of popular celebrities or sometimes random pictures that inspire the perfect canvass for writing a text that brings out the humor in that picture. At “Bush Tinker” we are not using the faces of celebrities but prominent Sierra Leonean leaders. Since we know that most Sierra Leoneans may be familiar with their leaders faces, using their pictures as meme canvass to display or convey a COVID-19 messages, will be more effective than using a random celebrity picture, which may not be familiar to Sierra Leoneans. The pictures of leaders we select are intentional to fit the “meme-stic” commandments (funny, sarcastic, and humorous) and can go perfectly with our COVID-19 messages.

2. Text: We tweaked the text to reflect a message that inspires a behavioral change to who ever get to see our memes. Normally memes text could come in different forms that may describe the mood of a particular image and sometimes in the most sensible manner and other times in the most random text that hardly make any sense. Since we are creating memes to be effective for COVID-19 sensitization and awareness messages, we also developed a question framework we called the “How and When Meme Question frame” that all our memes follow. That is, we describe “How” one act in an image “when” they learn/know/aware of an information (sensitization, awareness) about Corona virus aka COVID-19.

3. QR Codes: Yes, I know you have probably never seen a meme that has QR codes on it. Well, at our organization we did it. But Why? Because we wanted to further guide all our meme viewers and users to more resources on COVID-19. Our QR codes are encoded with links and credible sources of information related to the messages we have on our memes. That is to say, if you have a QR code reader on your phone, you can scan the QR code on the meme (provided they are opened on another device and you have a phone to scan the QR codes), to learn more about COVID-19. To take this even further, you can print our memes on papers and post it around your office space, your home, or community, or even your business place for people to scan the QR codes and learn more about COVID-19. Wouldn’t it be nice to have people pass by and see these memes and laugh a little and scan QR codes for more info; especially with so much fear and panic, fake news, and misinformation circulating ? It is a long question but we believe your answer to it is a YES. And just in case you think it is a hassle to scan the QR-Codes we got you. On our COVID-19 info-meme page, below every meme you have link that can click on to take you to additional credible information sources that our memes are trying to convey.

Overall, what we really want to achieve is to use a design approach to create ways to sensitize and raise awareness on COVID-19 using memes. Since there is a lot of fear and paranoia surrounding COVID-19 we wanted to make people smile in these emotionally and medically trying times but at the same time enable them to learn something credible about COVID-19. And by the way, you don’t have to be a Sierra Leonean to enjoy a good COVID-19 info-meme. And just in case you are wondering; where the heck can I find these COVID-19 info-memes? You can find all of them on our page here at: BUSH TINKER. So, go ahead and click.

And again, don’t forget to share our COVID-19 info-memes with your friends and family online and also encourage them to scan the QR codes or click to learn more about COVID-19 from credible sources.

Leonard Francis Vibbi is a civic technologist and design researcher working in West Africa.

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