Here’s How to Love and Share GIFs in Case You Secretly Don’t Know

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
June 19 2014 10:47 AM

Here’s How to Love and Share GIFs in Case You Secretly Don’t Know

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People love GIFs. A lot. Really a lot. So much. They’ve been around since 1987, leaving plenty of time for a prolonged and heated pronunciation debate that wouldn’t stop until the creator of the .gif format himself weighed in definitively. And now Twitter announced Wednesday that it’s going to start supporting GIFs. They're everywhere.

But some Internet denizens are so passionate about GIFs that people who have less emotional investment in the little snippets and loops may not feel comfortable voicing confusion or etiquette questions. It shouldn’t be that way, though. This is a safe space, and GIFs are a medium of the people! Everyone should be included. So here’s a beginner’s guide in case you don’t really understand why a friend recently responded to your engagement announcement with just:

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GIFs are all about exaggerated emotion

If you’re excited about something and feel like celebrating,

If you’re not excited, but want to be sarcastic about it,

If you’re looking to mock or deride,

If you’re annoyed,

If something didn’t go well,

GIFS are a way of showing genuine emotion and conveying tone, something that can be a problem in text.

Choosing the right GIF

The crucial thing here is not to worry about other people’s expectations. You might think that you have to be “cool” or “with it” to choose a funny GIF. You might think that you don’t know where to find GIFs. You might suspect that people are going to judge you based on the quality of the GIFs that you send. You might be feeling like it’s all too much.

But don’t worry! It's gonna be fine, you just have to keep the pressure from getting to you. Oh, people will definitely judge you, sure, you just have to push past that. The way to choose a solid GIF is to not give a crap and send something that you actually think is funny. You want to send GIFs that hold a special place in your Internet heart. Don’t bother stretching the limit of your cultural references or trying to pretend you know more than you do about Drake. Think outside the box.

In terms of finding GIFs, the first step is just Google. Typing in any word or phrase followed by “gif” will produce hundreds if not thousands of options. You want to be choosy about which one you pick, but there’s plenty out there. Once you’ve got that covered, the next step is to create a GIF folder on your computer and store your favorites there for easy access. The more you share GIFs, the more you’ll realize how prevalent they are. You’ll be able to build up a tailored library and bust out the perfect failed-cat-jump GIF when you need it most.

What to do if someone sends you a GIF that you don’t understand

If you receive a GIF like this,

and it’s just not clear what it’s in reference to, try to get in the sender’s head. What could she have been thinking? If you see what the person was trying to do, but a GIF just isn’t funny, you can ignore it or just give it a quick “haha” to keep the conversation moving. If you’re in a group chat or thread you can wait and see what other people think. If conversation dies because of the unfortunate GIF, you can decide whether to help the sender out by moving things along, or whether to let her wallow in her own GIF-related shame. But be aware that we’ve all sent dud GIFs (see below), and it doesn’t feel good. Be compassionate.

If you’re the one who sent the lame GIF

DO NOT EXPLAIN IT. DO NOT TRY TO JUSTIFY IT. DO NOT SEND A FOLLOW UP GIF. This is not a drill, people. If you screw up, you just have to let it go. If the conversation dies, it dies. You will make things worse if you try to make them better. Just don’t mess up again for a while.

People appreciate classics

If you can’t think of something original, go with something you already know people love. Everyone will assume that you’re referencing their longtime obsession with the GIF.

As a last resort

If you’re just not getting it, think of GIFs as a modern version of America’s Funniest Home Videos. This is an oversimplification of the GIF’s true beauty as a medium, but it’s a useful shorthand.

You’re ready!

Remember that this is the Internet, so h8ers gon h8, but you’ve got this. Bring it on.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Lily Hay Newman is lead blogger for Future Tense.

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