Just days before the BYU vs. Nebraska football game, Nebraskan on-air personality Mike Welch lashed out against BYU, labeling the football team with the hashtag #ThugMormon.
The phrase was intended to highlight the hypocrisy of the BYU Honor Code and the player brawl that broke out during the Miami Beach Bowl on Dec. 14, 2014.
Ironically, #ThugMormon took over the Twitter-sphere. It at one point became the No. 1 trending hashtag in the Salt Lake area but not for the reason Welch intended.
Here are some the many ways the LDS community and BYU nation has embraced their inner #ThugMormon:
I never shook the Bishop's hand after handing him my tithing envelope. #ThugMormon
— Robby Huckvale (@robby_huckvale) September 7, 2015
Only keeps a 71-hour kit. #thugmormon
— Cee Jay Tee (@DelinClint) September 6, 2015
— Mark Heiner (@dr_heiner) September 5, 2015
While this reaction has taken on a comedic tone, BYU students like Vince Labinpuno, a senior from California, see this as an opportunity for people to feel included and jump on to a familiar bandwagon.
“Everyone loves to be part of a good inside joke,” Labinpuno said.
BYU student Kaiser Larsen, a senior from Idaho Falls, Idaho added, “This has given a chance for some members to interact on social media that haven’t had a reason to. Members seem to enjoy responding to this trend because it gives them a chance to express ideas that everyone is thinking but hasn’t said.”
Sometimes when I write to missionaries I copy and paste the same thing to all of them. #thugmormon
— Tiffany Parker (@soccertiger7) September 7, 2015
I go to In n Out Burger on Sunday night at 11:59 instead of waiting for midnight to pass #ThugMormon
— Things Mormons Like (@TheMormonLikes) September 3, 2015
So how does a trending hashtag work? What separates an average social media post from ones that elicit a response from an entire community?
While there could be many reasons, Dee Allsop, CEO of Heart and Mind Strategies, said a key element of any message that evokes a strong public reaction must be “provocative and anchored in some kind of truth.”
Creating a buzz-phrase is only half the battle. “Words are dynamic and can go anywhere the audience takes it,” Allsop said. “The message needs to be monitored and shaped once it reaches the public, otherwise its intended meaning is lost.”
Welch removed the tweet, but deleting the original #thugmormon wasn’t enough to stop local media outlets from capturing a screenshot of the post — keeping the joke alive.