Charting the Trash Dove's Facebook Invasion

If you've been on Facebook at any point during the past week or so, you might have noticed a strange purple bird appearing in comment chains. It's actually a sticker, which once animated will rhythmically (and somewhat violently) thrash its head. Where did it come from? Why is it suddenly the most popular generic response on Facebook? Most importantly, what the hell does it even mean?

Starting with the origin, we have an artist named Syd Weiler to thank for this odd little creature. While travelling during the summer, she spent some time sketching out pigeons, and turned the resultant sketches into a sticker set, which has been available on the App store since September. It made the jump to the Facebook sticker store at the end of last month.

So how does one sticker from a charming, but fairly unremarkable sticker set become the go-to meme in the space of only a few weeks? To figure that out, we have to travel to Thailand. On the 7th, a Thai user incorporated the head-banging trash dove into a weird video which also featured a dancing cat. To date, the video has been viewed over 4 million times, and after some other Thai users started using the trash dove in their own content, the floodgates opened.

Thai news outlets were talking about it, and then everyone was talking about it. A little while later, everyone was doing it. Editing the bird into videos and images is time-consuming though, especially when you can insert the little guy into any Facebook message, post or comment with a single click.

So what does it mean, then? Nothing, really, it's just a universal response. It could be sign of approval, or disapproval, or mockery, it very much depends on the context. Many memes behave like an in-joke, half the point of sharing them is to confuse anyone who isn't 'in', but in this particular case nobody is in, because the bird carries no particular meaning. It's just a purple pigeon.

From Weiler's point of view, it must have been a strange blend of exciting and confusing, it's not every day you wake up to find your name and your work plastered over the front page of every major news site in Thailand. Weiler did create a new trash dove holding a Thai flag, as a thank you, but quickly had to tweak it when it became apparent that depicting a bird with the national flag clasped in its foot is actually kind of offensive.

Syd Weiler/Huffington Post

So where next for the trash dove? Well, given that it's only been active for a little over a week, you'll probably be seeing ever greater flocks of them on your feed for the rest of the month. In a way, it's easy to understand the root of the appeal, it's almost like the purest form of a meme there is - a really silly thing, utterly devoid of context, yet somehow universally applicable. I'm sure eventually someone will find a way to ruin it, but in the mean time, bird is the word. I regret nothing.

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