As the COVID-19 pandemic wore on in April 2020, a “Meeting Between Breadfruit” Facebook status update meme began recirculating; iterations of the meme were nearly identical:
My name is [name], I think many people know me, no matter when our paths have crossed. Maybe some like me, and others don’t, but if you are on my Facebook, I want to believe that you like me. I would love to see if we can still communicate with more than just likes and gifs, and actually write something to each other. I decided to participate in an experience called “A Meeting Between Breadfruit”.
The idea is to see who reads a post without a photo. We are so immersed in technology that we have forgotten the most important thing: good friendship. If no one reads this message, it will be a short social experiment. But if you read it until the end, I want you to make a comment with one word about us.
For example, a place, an object, a person, a moment with which you relate or remember me by. Then copy this text and stick it on your wall, (don’t share) and I’ll go to your wall to leave a word that reminds me of you. Please don’t write any comments if you don’t have time to copy the text. That would ruin the experiment.
Change my name and write yours. Let’s see who took time to read and answer according to the shared story beyond Facebook!!
Examples of the “Meeting Between Breadfruit” Memes
It’s likely several of your friends “participated” in the “meeting between breadfruit” meme (while perhaps calling it an “experiment”), which is visible if you search for “meeting between breadfruit” or just “breadfruit.” Typically, the copy-and-paste text spread among individual users.
On occasion, Facebook pages copied the meme into a post, such as one on the aptly named “I Fucking Hate “Copy & Paste” Pleas” or @donotpaste. In that December 23 2019 post, that poster expressed irritation at the spread of the meme:
Features of the “Meeting Between Breadfruit” Memes
The “Meeting Between Breadfruit” meme was not the first of its sort, and it followed a familiar structure:
- A verbose and emotive introduction about the nature of Facebook friends;
- An initial lament that people on the platform tended to communicate via “likes” and “reaction GIFs,” in lieu of meaningful interaction;
- A false and manipulative assertion that people typically do not read statuses if those statuses did not include images (which is clearly not the case based on the amount of text-based Facebook content we review each week);
- “We are so immersed in technology that we have forgotten the most important thing: good friendship”;
- A call-to-action, imploring Facebook friends to “make a comment with one word about us … a place, an object, a person, a moment with which you relate or remember me by”;
- Explicit instructions participating friends “copy this text and stick it on your wall, (don’t share) … don’t write any comments if you don’t have time to copy the text,” that “would ruin the experiment”;
- A final assertion participation would reveal “who took time to read and answer,” i.e., the users most sincere friends.
“Meeting Between Breadfruit” Response Memes
Not long after that, the text was shared to Reddit’s r/terriblefacebookmemes, with some of the content replaced:
In that version, the opening lines were identical — but the following text characterized the meme as “an information collection campaign.”
“Meeting Between Breadfruit” Meaning and Purpose
The oldest iterations of the meme we located dated back to mid-December 2019; the COVID-19 pandemic appeared to resurrect interest in the meme. As we (and the satirization above) pointed out, it was questionable for more than a few reasons:
- Insertion of the unique passcode-like phrase “Meeting Between Breadfruit” (a real tropical fruit) very efficiently enabled anyone to track the spread of the text, since searches of Facebook returned only or mainly iterations of the meme;
- By discouraging the use of reactions, images, and GIFs, the meme generated scannable text should anyone choose to surf the search for information;
- Such trends served little purpose save for grouping information together for scans or searches;
- Users participating might open themselves to violations of privacy if the original poster shared the status publicly;
- Sharing of personal information in general made it easier for those will ill-intent to guess security information such as first school attended, alma mater, etc.;
- The meme was self-sorting, discouraging any non-text participation and creating a clean flow of text-only answers programs could scan easily.
“Meeting Between Breadfruit” Origin
That said, there’s no specific evidence any one entity or person started the meme for the purposes of collecting information — it may well have popped up organically, seeded with an unusual name to be eye-catching.
Regardless of its origin or the intent behind the first iterations of the post and intent notwithstanding, its pattern of spread effectively enables wide-scale collection of information. So even if the intent was completely harmless, bad actors can still use the “Meeting Between Breadfruit” phrase to sort for data-rich Facebook posts.
Claims About Technology and the Deterioration of “Authentic” Interactions Between Friends
A common appeal to emotion in viral Facebook posts hinged on the perils of over-reliance on technology as a basis for human interaction. The meme leveraged that belief (that technology has made us lazy friends) to manipulate users into spreading it to mark themselves as people who valued “real friendship.”
It’s possible a feeling of loneliness or disconnection due to widespread stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders due to the global COVID-19 pandemic drove interest in the meme, and made users feel they were showing that they “still cared” about their friends. However, there is plenty of counter-evidence to the claim Facebook users interact only with images, and text-based posts are just as if not more commonly spread content.
Is the “Meeting Between Breadfruit” Meme Dangerous?
If you’ve participated by commenting on or sharing “Meeting Between Breadfruit” posts, there’s no reason to worry. Thus far, the meme simply has the features of a campaign designed to be useful to text-crawling information-seeking bots, but there’s no evidence it has been exploited in that manner.
However, the features of the meme and its enduring spread illustrate why there is no good reason to pass on baseless or pointless Facebook forwards — all of the sentiments expressed in the meme can be expressed in a personal post on your Facebook wall, without the elements threading the responses together for anyone engaging in information scraping.