Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
August 10, 2022

How social media influences culture and language

By KATIE TAM | December 2, 2017



The creation of AS.300.304, aka “Hopkins/Memes/Lost Hopes and Dreams,” seems to embody the influence that internet culture has had on our generation. As college students, we’re connected to the internet almost every second of every day, whether it be through social media sites like Snapchat and Facebook or through more academically-related pages like Blackboard. Accordingly, this has significantly shaped the ways in which we speak and act in everyday life.

Social media is a major facet of internet culture and has greatly impacted how we interact with one another. For instance, the introduction of streaks on Snapchat has made it so the app has become a ubiquitous part of most peoples’ daily routine. Even Hopkins Dining has gotten in on the action: The Great Dining Streak Challenge encourages students to keep a streak with the Hopkins Dining account in order to receive a free meal pass.

Personally, social media has allowed me to stay connected to friends I might not otherwise have, especially those back home. I like seeing small snippets of my friends’ lives, and I enjoy sharing pieces of my life with them too. The internet allows me to do that and stay connected with family and friends across the country and even the world.

Social media helps nurture the growth of another major part of our internet culture. Students at Hopkins (evidenced by the inspiration for the aforementioned meme class) seem to like to post to the Facebook meme page while procrastinating on their work. Memes are a big part of internet culture and can often come up as casual references in our conversations.

For instance, my dorm floor freshman year often got together to play Cards Against Humanity. Write-ins on the blank white cards often had something to do with Harambe when that meme was at its peak. Popular memes often become pop culture references that are considered common knowledge in everyday speech. Memes aren’t the only thing influencing our language, English itself has changed, thanks to the way we speak to each other online.

The way we speak to each other online is vastly different from how we do in face-to-face conversations. Words like “tea” or “snake” can take on different meanings depending on context and/or the emojis used. Sentences can also take on different shades of meaning, depending on grammar.

Choosing to capitalize Certain Words in a sentence or using no caps at all has meaning. Keyboard smashing random strings of characters has meaning. Ending a somewhat somber or otherwise neutral sentence with “lol” has meaning. I know I tend to use “lol” or “haha” as their own forms of punctuation. They connote a sense of casualness and help decrease the tension in a sentence with a tone that may be otherwise hard to read.

The way we speak online also takes the use of metaphors to another level. When someone claims to be “trash,” we know exactly what they mean by it. Although usually only those embedded in our generation’s internet culture would comprehend such a phrase, the level of understanding is still pretty amazing. We all have communities within the internet that we choose to engage with, whether it be Reddit, Twitter or Tumblr. Each takes advantage of these distinct idiosyncrasies in the use of language.

The way we communicate on the internet has allowed us to recognize unique ideas in ways that are hard to do in person. Languages are meant to change and evolve as people find new ways to express ideas. They reflect the people who used them, and the internet allows new forms of written language to show the same.

While most of what I’ve written so far has to do with how the internet has influenced the more casual ways we interact with one another, more serious methods of communication have also been influenced by our internet culture. The internet isn’t just a place with cat videos and memes, it’s a resource filled with millions of places to learn. From the Euthanasia Coaster to toilet paper orientation, you can read about almost anything on the internet (and yes, those are real Wikipedia pages).

As such, the internet has become a useful tool when fact checking things like news sources, speakers or that one video you saw on Facebook. The ease of accessing information has made finding sources to back up people’s claims relatively simple. Theoretically, this should make the information we spread to one another more accurate, although your results may vary on that. The widespread use of smartphones also makes it easier than ever to double check the accuracy of information we see. Our internet culture already embraces social media, memes and the modification of the English language. Given how easy the internet has made it, fact checking should also be added to that list.

Our internet culture, like the internet itself, is always changing. Whether through casual references to the latest meme or through finding sources to corroborate claims in an essay, our internet culture has and will continue to influence the way we communicate and interact with one another, both in person and online.

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