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How the 'alt text' meme is dividing users on Twitter

Picked up by many brands and users alike, this new meme on Twitter, however, is proving controversial. We explain why

Published: May 5, 2023 05:29:45 PM IST
Updated: May 5, 2023 05:42:52 PM IST

How the 'alt text' meme is dividing users on TwitterPicked up by many brands and users alike, the 'alt meme' is proving controversial on Twitter. Image: Shutterstock

It's hard to avoid the image if you're on Twitter, it's everywhere with its white background, the two words 'Click here' and an arrow, pointing at the bottom left to the "ALT" image description label. Picked up by many brands and users alike, this meme, however, is proving controversial on the social network. We explain why.

It's the meme that's trending on Twitter, as the month of May gets underway. Its appearance couldn't be simpler: a white background on which two words -- 'Click here' -- are printed, and an arrow pointing to the bottom left corner of the image where the 'ALT' label is positioned. This little 'sticker' is actually the "alternative text" label designed for accessibility. The point of it is that by clicking on it, any user can then access a text description of what is presented in an image.

Web users can activate this option when publishing an image in order to add a description to their visual, which allows visually impaired followers to get a description through text-to-speech to read it. Here's how Twitter outlines the feature: "How to make images accessible for people - ... you have the option to compose a description of the images so the content is accessible to more people, including those who are blind or low-vision. Good image descriptions are concise and descriptive, helping people understand what’s happening in an image."

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Instead of adding an exact description of the image, some users decided to have fun with the accessibility feature. And it is precisely this point that has divided Twitter users. The image was used by numerous brands' accounts including McDonald's Canada and Red Bull Gaming and even the Paris2024 Olympics account, albeit with a twist, whose post went viral. The account Paris2024 added a description (in French) without any relation to the image but in connection with the 2024 Olympics: "451 days before the Olympic Games,484 days before the Paralympic Games."

And these examples have been called out by some users. It even led to an exchange between a user and the Paris2024 account: "Disappointing that you're using ALT text (an accessibility tool for the partially sighted and blind) for a meme. ALT text is supposed to explain what's in the picture. You haven't done this, therefore excluding blind people," user Chris Kyle said. To which the Paris2024 account responded, "We use it as soon as possible to explain what's in our pictures. You can check Chris and we'll try to continue until the end of the Games." A response that wasn't enough for the user who concluded by saying: "But the alt text does not explain what is in your picture in this tweet. You're just using it as a joke."

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McDonald's Canada, meanwhile, was also called out on its misuse by Connor Scott-Gardner. The company subsequently removed the post and apologized.

So will the meme ultimately have a positive effect and incite more community managers and users to use it more often and properly, while avoiding misuse?