When Asif Raza Rana, a Pakistani government worker, posted an image to his Facebook page on 13 September 2015, he had no idea that it would make internet history. It was a photograph of him shaking hands with a man named Salman, above two small photos of another man—Mudasir—who had been crossed out in each one with a lime-green X. Colourful WordArt letters at the top blared “Friendship ended with Mudasir / Now Salman is my best friend”. A caption explained that Rana was parting ways with Mudasir because the latter had become “selfish” and “proudy”.

Rana’s post got thousands of shares and likes, and in the three years since he first uploaded it, it has spawned countless memes riffing on its “Friendship ended with X…” phrasing. For example, a recent one, made and circulated after this year’s fractious G7 summit, showed Donald Trump shaking hands with the leader of North Korea under the heading “Friendship Ended With Western Allies / Now Kim Jong Un Is My Best Friend.”

One of the engines that fuelled Rana’s post and its virality was r/indianpeoplefacebook, a forum (or “subreddit”) on the social news aggregation website Reddit. The blurb that introduces r/indianpeoplefacebook to newcomers defines it as a place where anyone can post “screenshots of Indian and other non-English speaking internet users discovering the wonders of Facebook and other social media”.

Three days after Rana made the announcement, a Reddit user shared a screenshot of it to r/indianpeoplefacebook, titling the post “Mudasir done fucked up.”

It became wildly popular across the internet, and news outlets soon began running articles about the severed friendship. Some of them even wrote follow-ups a month later, when Rana posted another image to announce that he and Mudasir were friends once again.

Rana’s meme is still r/indianpeoplefacebook’s biggest claim to fame, but the subreddit has grown at a steady clip since then. From about 41,000 subscribers when Rana’s meme was first posted, it now has over 340,000. R/indianpeoplefacebook has also since emerged as a watering hole for humour about how South Asian people supposedly behave on social media—a subject of jokes that, in today’s increasingly niche-based meme culture, seem to be getting more and more popular both on and off Reddit.

As this meme economy of voyeuristic “cringe” humour grows, so too does the potential fallout. Apart from the racial stereotypes that this supposedly harmless mockery furthers, it also raises serious questions about the privacy of people like Rana who are the butt of the jokes. The exposure of content meant to be, at the very least, semi-private is a dangerous tool in the hands of the troll or the cyberbully, for instance.

AUTHOR

Aria Thaker

Aria Thaker is a journalist based in Delhi who reports and writes on issues of technology, politics and culture. She tweets at @ariathak.

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