The simple line drawing mocking the worst of social media habits became the very thing he feared the most
While by their very nature something only becomes a meme when it spreads widely around the Internet, few memes in the history of web culture have managed to become so universally hated in the space of seven days. But that is the case with Be like Bill, the stick-figure man who became the Internet’s figure of hate.
What do we know about Bill? He laughs in the face of chain emails, but never in the face of a selfie camera. He doesn’t spam his friends with Candy Crush invitations, nor post hate speech or Star Wars spoilers online. If you live in Palestine, he’s Bilal, and the IDF is using him to teach young Internet-savvy Palestinians not to stab people to death. It’s probably working, upon seeing Bilal, they’re more likely to want to stab their own eyes out.
Whether he’s Bill, Bilal or José, he’s everywhere, shared on social media to instruct us all in the proper ways to go out navigating Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. In every language, on any screen, he arrives, with the same message every time. “This is Bill. Bill does something. Be like Bill.”
The meme that started it all [Facebook]
Bill, with his clunky desktop computer, is the meme of the moment and first appeared on Internet-forum websites like Funkyjunk and Reddit in October 2015. The image was posted as an ironic how-not-to-use-the-Internet-poke at ‘social-justice warriors’, a highly pejorative term used online to refer to web-users who take part in arguments or conversations regarding any social issue of the day.
There was, of course, no monster without Frankenstein and the man widely credited with breathing life into Bill is Eugeniu Croitoru, a 23-year-old Moldovan living in Milan. Bill first made the crossover from the relatively esoteric world of Reddit to the even-your-granny-uses-it Facebook in an Italian group called Sii Come Bill.
Croitoru, the Washington Post reports, created a Be like Bill about how considerate Bill doesn’t post Star Wars spoilers online, garnering huge reactions and the greatest currency in short-lived web infamy, virality. A separate group was made for Bill, and Croitoru and other members of the Videogamemes website started churning out more and more bills, a seemingly endless stream of complaints against the worst social-media activity of all of us.
As the phenomenon took off, sub-memes began to emerge almost as quickly as Bill [Facebook]
As Croitoru quickly found out, nobody can own a meme. The simplicity of Bill’s design meant that people all over the world started to co-opt the single-pane comic, filling it with text and instructions on absolutely everything, including Bilal should do with that knife (give it to his chef father, as it happens). As it currently stands, the English-language version on Facebook – though ones also exist in Italian, Spanish, Malaysian, and Arabic – has more than 1.5m followers. You can be certain at least one of your friends has Liked it.
Popularity is a fickle game, even more so on the Internet. Within hours of Bill becoming a social-media ubiquity, there were already calls of a plague. And that’s when the response memes started, with Paddy Power, the Queensland Police Service, and some clever movie fans turning their derision of Bill into sub-memes of their own.
In the fleeting world of web culture, Bill is already yesterday’s news. Like the dress, the ‘ermahgerd’ girl, condescending Willy Wonka, and whatever else the Internet might throw at us, it’s already a has been.