Seriously though? (Image Source: The Conversation)
By Anna Day | @anna_day_
It is no secret that the internet is home to some weird and wacky ideas, but there a few things cropping up on the World Wide Web lately that seem especially strange.
In case you missed it in amongst the buzz over FaceApp—the Russian app that may or may not be storing the selfies we use to make ourselves look 90 years old— “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All Of Us” is a Facebook event that has gained exponential popularity.
The event, which is set to happen on September 20, proposes a mass storming of the US Air force base known as Area 51 to prove the existence of aliens, allegedly being held at the base.
“Storm Area 51” has 1.9 million people “going” and a further 1.4 million people “interested”.
A multitude of memes have sprung from “Storm Area 51”, from battle plans to befriending the aliens that will be found there.
You can even buy t-shirts.
“We will all meet up at the Area 51 Alien Centre tourist attraction and coordinate our entry,” said event organisers SmyleeKun, Shitposting Because I’m In Shambles and The Hidden Sound.
“If we naruto run, we can move faster than their bullets.
“Lets see them aliens.”
The real purpose of the US Air force base known as Area 51 has long been a source of speculation on the Internet.
Area 51 was so secretive that it was not until the release of CIA documents in 2013 that the military base’s existence was officially confirmed.
The Nevada base was first used in the 1950s to test U-2 aircraft, which were an iconic fixture of aerial surveillance during the cold war.
Since then Area 51 has tested US stealth aircraft including the B-2, the Raptor, advanced cruise missile systems, and drones.
The CIA has declassified some projects, but aerospace historian Peter Merlin told National Geographic “there are so many other projects both manned and unmanned that we may not hear about for decades”.
The secrecy of Area 51 gives the US an edge against its international rivals.
So you can see why they would want to keep prying eyes out.
Area 51’s infamous secrecy, however, has also created a plethora of conspiracies theories as to what else goes on at the clandestine base.
Speculation that the 1969 moon landing was staged at Area 51 is one popular theory.
Another is that extra-terrestrial life is being held at Area 51.
This theory has been propelled by alleged UFO sightings around the base and pop culture references like the 1996 film Independence Day that features Area 51 as a location where alien crash remains are harboured.
However, as National Geographic reports, more than half of all UFO sightings in the United States from the late 1950s and 1960s were accounted for by manned reconnaissance flights, namely the U-2.
It is this popular alien conspiracy theory, however, that forms the foundation for the ‘Storm Area 51’ Facebook event.
While the organisers have admitted the event is a joke that resonates with a certain internet-native generation, media outlets have picked up the story and are voicing genuine concerns that some people will attempt to trespass into Area 51 on September 20.
“[Area 51] is an open training range for the US Air Force, and we would discourage anyone from trying to come into the area where we train American armed forces,” Air Force spokeswoman Laura McAndrews told the Washington Post.
“The US Air Force always stands ready to protect America and its assets.”
At the moment the storming of Area 51 has yet to become anything more than harmless fun, and we’ll have to wait until September 20 to find out if it has any real consequences.
But there is another Internet phenomenon that is having serious repercussions for its die-hard followers: QAnon.
First posted on the message board 4Chan, the anonymous “Q” claimed to be a government insider with top security clearance who knew the truth about a corrupt “deep state” government pulling the strings in the US.
Trump is portrayed as a hero who will overcome the struggle between the deep state, Robert Mueller, the Clintons, and paedophile rings among other conspiracies.
While the QAnon conspiracy often feels like a sophisticated troll, an online community of believers has grown from it.
And of course whenever something seems ridiculous, memes poking fun abound.
This Vice article, however, describes how people’s relationship with their mothers, husband and partners have disintegrated as their loved ones have become consumed by QAnon.
“I’ve tried and tried to show her facts, only to have fake news thrown in my face,” one daughter said of her mother to Vice.
“How do you disprove anything when everything that’s different from what the Q cult says is considered fake news?
“It’s the ones with the deep mental disorders that really stick with it.”
QAnon shows how messy things can get on the Internet, and it stems from individuals making up false reports and feeding into people’s vulnerabilities.
While Area 51 memes are just a joke, perhaps it does not take much for a “joke” to take a turn for the worst.
So, the next time a meme piques your interest, it might be worthwhile sparing some thought before sharing it with your friends.