‘I Became an Internet Meme:’ How It Feels When Your Face Goes Viral

'I Became an Internet Meme:' How It Feels When Your Face Goes Viral


by Contributor |
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How does it feel when your face becomes a viral internet sensation? Kate Killet, 24, describes the surreal experience...

The thing about accidental internet fame is that it all happens very quickly. One day in 2012, I checked my phone and saw that I had dozens of notifications on social media. I looked at Twitter and Facebook to find the same message over and over. ‘Kate, is this you? Kate, have you seen this? Kate, look at this!’ All had a picture of me attached, which I instantly recognised as being one I’d taken two years earlier, on Halloween.

That year, in need of a last-minute costume, I’d decided to go as a hipster, pairing denim shorts with a tie-dye crop top, Birkenstocks with woollen socks, and wearing a braid around my head. I had finished off the look with my own glasses.

Before I left for the party, I’d taken a quick photo of myself. I’m a freelance photographer, and at the time I’d been taking a lot of self-portraits – selfies before they were a thing, basically. My outfit hadn’t caused that much reaction at the time, aside from a few of my friends joking, ‘That’s kind of how you dress normally.’ Afterwards, I’d uploaded the picture to my Facebook page and to my Flickr account, with the label ‘Hipster’, and it sat there, pretty much unnoticed, for a couple of years.

Suddenly, that picture was now everywhere. I quickly deduced that someone must have found it on my Flickr account – which was public so that people could view my work – by searching for the term ‘hipster’. It was the point in time where hipsters had become prime mocking fodder – and my photo had been the one chosen to do it. I’d put the picture out there in a public space, and I knew that anyone could grab anything from the internet. You just never imagine it will be your photo that gets taken.

People were using my face and writing their own captions over it to make fun of hipsters. One said: ‘People at this bar think they’re so cool. I’ve been to Iceland – I’ve seen cool.’ Another said, ‘Guyz I’ve started to recognise Swedish actors. I’m so hipster. LOL!’ There was also: ‘Born in 2000. Dresses like an ’80s douche,’ and even, ‘I was a meme, before memes were memes.’ People were sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, blogs… it was crazy.


My phone was buzzing constantly with excited friends sending me the latest versions of the memes. People I hadn’t talked to since school were getting back in touch to check if it was me. On sites like QuickMeme, where people can create their own version using the image with whatever text they like, my picture had been shared thousands of times over.

I’m a blogger and pretty web savvy, so I knew straight away what memes were – I just never expected to be one, and I felt pretty freaked out by it.

Over the coming weeks, that image of me was shared thousands and thousands of times, all around the world. It was surreal, knowing that hundreds of people in Mexico were looking at an image of me, and I couldn’t even understand what the caption beside it said.

'I wanted to track down every person who had posted it and say, ‘Guys, this isn’t me!’

People ask me if I was angry or upset, but more than anything I felt frustration at the lack of control I had over it all. People were seeing my face and associating it with someone that wasn’t who I was. OK, I own my fair share of tight jeans, high-waisted trousers and sequins – I’ve been accused of dressing hipster before, but the costume was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, an exaggerated version. I was dressed as a character – it wasn’t really me.

One meme said, ‘These glasses are prescription,’ poking fun at people who wear glasses when they don’t need them. But they really were my prescription glasses! Another said, ‘Moved to Brooklyn. Scared sh**less of living in Brooklyn.’ Actually, I’d love to live in Brooklyn if I could, but I’m Canadian and don’t have a US visa.

I wanted to track down every person who had posted it, comment on every one and say, ‘Guys, this isn’t me! It was a character.’ Or explain that I would never talk in that way. But it was pointless even trying – the meme was growing so quickly, it was everywhere. I was helpless to stop it. At first it was infuriating, but I realised the best way to deal with it was to let it go.

I was at university at the time, and it was quickly big news around campus, though thankfully most people knew I wasn’t really like that. I started getting recognised randomly when I was on nights out, though usually people couldn’t quite place where they knew me from. ‘You look so familiar,’ they’d say.

For a few weeks it felt pretty overwhelming, but luckily, I knew enough about memes and the internet to know that people soon move on to the next thing. It was a relief when, sure enough, they did.

I tell myself it could have been much worse. At least I took the picture myself – it wasn’t an embarrassing snap that someone else took or a particularly personal memory that was stolen. I know that the person being mocked is a character and not really me – even if the people doing it don’t. And, thankfully, it hasn’t affected my work as a freelance photographer, though I do wish that as many people had seen my other work!

I’ve no idea how many times it has been used. There’s no way of tracking it, and I try to avoid purposely searching for it. It’s like stalking an ex-boyfriend online – no good can ever come of it.

I have a boyfriend now who couldn’t care less about memes, but when I was dating, I tended to tell guys myself before they got a chance to stumble on it and get weirded out. Three years on, I still get the odd person sending it to me who missed the boat the first time around. But I’ve learned to embrace it. I have ‘meme’ written in my Twitter bio, and I quite like being part of this elite club. I’ve even met a couple of other real-life memes, including Scumbag Steve – who, of course, is not a scumbag in real life.

Despite what happened, my Instagram and Twitter accounts are still public – something my parents struggle to understand. But we live in a digital age – you can either be scared of things like this and run away, or you can take it with a pinch of salt and laugh at yourself. Which I can do now.

Admittedly, I’m more cautious about what I put online these days, as I’m aware of how it can be taken out of context, and I prefer taking pictures of other people now, not of myself. I know other memes have used their moment of internet fame to launch a media career, but I don’t want to commit to being an exaggerated hipster full-time. I’m fine with just being me.

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