You are on page 1of 13

Kim 1

Kristy Kim
Writing 39C MWF 12:00-12:50 P.M.
Professor Holbrook
4 Dec. 2014
Advocacy Project

#FirstWorldProblems: How to Kill a Popular Trend
In today’s advanced society of technology, social networking websites have become a
primary source of communication within people all over the world. Of many internet trends that
have circulated around the web, one particular trend that has become especially popular is “First
World Problems,” where people from privileged nations complain about trivial annoyances in
their daily lives. Users of social media view these “First World Problems” as a humorous and
ironic joke, but the irony of the trend itself is an issue; people of the First World are failing to
realize that they are referencing and belittling Third World nations unintentionally. The phrase,
“First World Problems,” is leading social media users to become unaware and insensitive toward
actual concerns that are affecting the human population in both the First and Third World
countries; this leads to the more developed countries to become less willing to help or contribute
toward these issues. Instead of having social media cause a greater division between the First and
Third World nations, social media can instead be used as a weapon to tackle these problems by
discouraging the privileged from using the hashtag, having social media websites adjust their
policies while regulating their sites more often, and banning merchandise that aims more of the
public’s attention to “First World Problems.”
The “First World Problems” meme began as a small, harmless spark but eventually burst
into an uncontainable fire. According to Amanda Ryan, social media manager of Wikimotive, the
phrase did not gain popularity until users in 2005 started creating blogs and websites that were
specifically devoted to “First World Problems” (Ryan). Soon, people on various social media

Kim 2
websites found the “First World Problems” memes entertaining and relatable to their own petty
troubles, and Twitter users constructed specific hashtags, number signs (#) followed by trending
key words or phrases, dedicated for the phrase. Different posts and tweets then spread
uncontrollably between social media users as several of their own “problems” were tagged with
the hashtag, “#FirstWorldProblems”. “First World Problems” morphed from being a gag to
whiny complaints that only privileged individuals are allowed to use in light of their trivial
aggravations. The trend now raises concerns to three problems: it creates a false perception of the
Third World, it blinds people of the problems that are happening in the privileged First World
nations, and it allows social media users to believe that it is acceptable to carelessly refer to
Third World nations while using the phrase self-deprecatingly.
First, the “First World Problems” trend constructs a negative stereotype of the Third
World nations. According to Daily Life writer Ruby Hamad, this trend is romanticizing
underdevelopment and “perpetuating the widespread idea that extreme poverty is the sum total of
life in less privileged nations” (Hamad). These assumptions prevent the First World to make any
effort into changing what is keeping many of these Third World countries underdeveloped. In
her Global Citizen article about the myths of the developing world, Michelle Kennedy states that
less than 1% of the national budget is spent on foreign aid, although an average American
assumes 25% (Kennedy). The privileged often do not feel obliged to take action or contribute
toward an existing problem due to their assumptions that someone else will “clean up the mess”
and take care of those who are in need; people with this attitude tend to conclude that their
contributions will not make much of a difference. Also according to Kennedy, many First World
citizens believe in false stereotypes and information of the Third World, such as believing that
developing nations are all in desperate poverty and that Africa is a country, not a continent

Kim 3
(Kennedy). Although the Third World may not be as privileged as the First World, it is wrong to
believe that these developing nations do not have any opportunities to complain about their own
day-to-day routines, because they will have annoyances in their lives, as well. People often
associate the Third World to issues related to poverty, hunger, and diseases, but Lizabeth Paulat
explains in her article on, that it does not “take incredible privilege or incredible
wealth to be tired, stressed, or grumpy about the minor everyday struggles of life” (Paulat). A
hashtag or trend should not be used unless its
history and background are fully understood by
social media users.
Social media users who actively use the
“First World Problems” hashtag often fail to realize
the severe issues that are occurring in their own
nation. The irony with the trend leads to greater
gaps between the trivialities of “First World
Problems” and the severity of “Third World”
problems. In reality, these supposed “Third World”
problems exist in the First World, as well. For
example, there were about 54,000 homeless people in

Figure 1: Statistics of “Third World”
problems within US

the Los Angeles area in 2013 (Holland). Figure 1 reveals the statistics of food insecurity,
poverty, and diseases that existed in the United States in 2010. The “First World Problems” trend
dismisses these issues that exist for the First World population; the best solution for this is to
educate the public about the problems within their own country and prevent social media users
from shaping both the First and Third World as one-dimensional nations.

Kim 4
Users of the “First World Problems” hashtag basically assume that “those who are
privileged with easy lives and good roads can understand the basic irritants of human existence,
but those from poorer
circumstances can only focus on
the real, more noble issues facing humanity (Paulat).
As shown in Figure 2, one Twitter user, Shawn
Figure 2: Twitter users Shawn Garrett (@ShawnGarrett) and Shelby
Zellmer (@sdzellmer) complain on Twitter.

Garrett, complains about how he
spent too long in a hot tub, resulting

in his fingers becoming so wrinkled that he is unable to unlock his smartphone. The other user,
Shelby Zellmer, says her “dad is mad right now because the Wifi isn’t working and he can’t play
Xbox.” Both tweets excessively flaunt privilege; when social media users complain openly and
laugh about the trivial “complications” they experience, the users fully understand that their
complaints are absurd. There is an underlying message in every “First World Problem” that
silently screams that social media users clearly know they are privileged enough to even fret
about such minor concerns in their lives. In his article, The Guardian writer Emer O’Toole
It [the hashtag] might have started out as a rebuke to first world privilege, but it
has now become so naturalized that it doesn’t really encourage any sort of
empathetic engagement with Third World issues. Worse, it’s formulated in a way
that excludes people from developing countries from the conversation. . . it’s hard
to ignore the fact that #firstworldproblems gag rests on the discrepancy between
First and Third World quality of life. (O’Toole)
The problem is not about people talking about First World problems; it is about people using the
phrase self-deprecatingly, forcing users to complain about materialistic things while
demonstrating cultural irony and ignorance by referencing the Third World nations all at the
same time. Complaining and boasting of social media users are hurtful to the potentially

Kim 5
underprivileged viewers who desire having as much privilege as the First World. To prohibit the
hashtag from further encouraging social media users to a sense of entitlement, these users must
understand how bragging to their peers and community on social media is harmful.
While some psychologists say it is an over-exaggeration to reprimand those who use the
popular trend, these psychologists do not recognize how the hashtag itself is a problematic overexaggeration. They believe that the phrase is merely just a joke and it should not be taken so
seriously. Psychologist Travis Langley argues that belittling people’s concerns is a form of
bullying and that “ridiculing the ‘First World Problem’ is, in fact, exaggeration of another kind”
(Langley). He mentions that it is psychologically healthier for a person to catastrophize their
complaints because humans’ brains are “wired for specific stress reactions” and this creates a
“positive, healthy development” for the complainer (Langley). Even though grumbling openly on
social media may be healthier for social media users, they should express their thoughts in a way
that does not negatively reference the Third World. It is an extreme form of selfishness to
complain openly on a public website while ignoring those who may be affected by these posts.
Ottawa psychologist, Roger Covin, states that people should not label certain social media users
as inconsiderate with no perspective. He worries that criticizing others will “possibly strengthen
existing misanthropic beliefs of people in general” (Covin). He also says that coercing all First
World citizens to disregard their own daily stresses as unimportant and “constantly pointing to
the less fortunate in this world is not necessarily a useful coping style, nor is labeling ourselves
as spoiled and narrow-minded when we complain about things that would bother us, but not
those less fortunate” (Covin). Regardless of how preventing people from complaining harms
their mental and psychological health and judging others is an act of self-righteousness, it is an

Kim 6
intolerable act to mock and categorize the Third World while mindlessly throwing around “First
World Problems” for a world-wide audience to see.
All of the issues that are being caused by the “First World Problems” trend must be
solved, and the best way to reach a practical solution is within the battlefield itself-social media.
In order to raise awareness of the social issues that string along with the hashtag, a campaign,
“Water is Life”, committed to providing access to clean water for underdeveloped countries,
uploaded a video of Third World poverty-stricken children reading various “First World
Problems.” The campaign video focused on citizens of Haiti and demonstrated the irony of “First
World Problems” by telling viewers that the “problems” they experience in the First World are
not “real” problems. The video triggers the audience to realize their trivial grievances seem
foolish compared to much more severe issues happening around the world. According to Ed
Payne and Chandler Friedman of CNN, the executive director of the campaign says that they
needed a new approach to show people who are
“becoming desensitized to suffering” that they are
“lucky enough to have simple things such as
water, food, and shelter.” Matt Eastwood, the
chief creative officer and creator of the video,
claims that they are “not setting out to humiliate
people who have used the #FirstWorldProblems
hashtag. . .the project encourages people to think
before they tweet.” There have been many more
Figure 3: In his video, Al Yankovic is
“angry” for having too many

parody videos by various YouTube users who
criticized the trend by displaying the “First World

Kim 7
Problems” more dramatically than it should. As shown in Figure 3, a famous singer-song writer,
“Weird Al” Yankovic, uploaded a spoof where he fumes about having too many groceries or not
being able to reach the WiFi signal in his kitchen (“’Weird Al’ Yankovic – First World
Problems”, YouTube). Another YouTube user, Ryan Higa, created an over-dramatic video about
certain people being “devastated” because it was “too cold” or “too hungry” (“First World
Problems”, YouTube). Videos that highlight the absurdity and irony of “First World Problems”
are an effective way to encourage social media users to carefully decide what to post and stop
using the hashtag in a toxic manner. Although these videos have gone viral and it has raised a
little more awareness, it is still not enough to prevent people from using the hashtag mindlessly
and truly be convicted. The phrase has now been too engraved within the media culture that the
true message is merely viewed as humor.
However, there are more realistic approaches to kill the “First World Problems” hashtag
when policies of social media websites are implemented. Twitter and Facebook must enforce a
policy against any posts that are degrading to other nations. Currently, Twitter’s policy page has
rules against threats or violence toward “a person or group on the basis of race, ethnicity,
national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, age, or disability” (Twitter).
Twitter also explains that they are not responsible for any of the content that users post,
including “inflammatory content.” Facebook’s policies are quite similar to Twitter’s rules,
stating that Facebook does not “control or direct users’ actions” and they are not responsible for
“any offensive, inappropriate, obscene, unlawful or otherwise objectionable content or
information.” Facebook continues on and says, “there are instances of offensive content,
including distasteful humor, that are not hate speech according to our definition”
(Facebook). There is no policy against being sensitive or respectful to another person regarding

Kim 8
gender, religion, nationality, etc. The
“First World Problems” hashtag is used
in a way that subtly condescends the
underdeveloped nations, and according
to policies of Twitter and Facebook, the
trend is not considered a direct threat or
violence against those nations. A few
years ago, Facebook was caught up in a
Figure 4: A rape page regarding Indian girls was not
removed on Facebook until users’ voices of protest
was getting stronger.

controversy regarding users posting prorape sites, such as the website shown in

Figure 4; Gawker writer Adrian Chen states that Facebook initially refused to remove these
disturbing websites, saying that they were merely just “jokes”, but pictures of breastfeeding have
been removed because pictures of “nudity” violates their community standards (Chen). Although
the “#FirstWorldProblems” trend does not promote dangers as rape jokes do, saying that the
hashtag is a joke just encourages users to continue using the phrase. One may say that racist
jokes are just jokes, as well, but in dark humor, all subjects of the joke become targeted. At a
quick glance, these dark jokes may seem light-hearted and harmless, but when dug deeply, the
jokes originate from mockery, ignorance, and lack of sensitivity. To prevent such dangerous and
insensitive content from taking over the web, Twitter and Facebook must regulate their
communities more often and carefully review what is being flagged or not flagged as offensive.
As websites being used by millions around the world, Twitter and Facebook must both change
their policies accordingly and train their staff to be more mindful of what could potentially harm
their community, even if some content may not technically violate their policies.

Kim 9
Within the past few
years, “First World Problem”
jokes have been growing,
even inspiring certain social
media users to create their
own merchandise for the
phrase. As shown in Figure 5, an
online store, Café Press, has been

Figure 5: A “First World Problems” mug being sold on
Café Press.

printing different types of “First World Problems” onto a variety of merchandise. The picture
reveals a mug that reads, “This mug holds too much coffee.” The problem that arises with this is
that unlike social media posts, merchandise will not be “deleted” or disappear within a blink of
an eye. As reported by Alex Greig of Daily Mail, Urban Outfitters seemingly glamorized eating
disorders by putting a picture of a skinny model wearing a
shirt that read, “Eat Less,” as shown in Figure 6. Social media
users “exploded in disgust” and one angry actress, Sofia
Bush, wrote a statement to Urban Outfitters, saying that they
“should issue a public apology, and make a hefty donation to
a woman’s organization that supports those stricken with
eating disorders” (Greig). The shirt was later taken down
from the website soon after the disgust in 2011 (Greig).
Figure 6: “Eat Less” shirt from
Urban Oufitters that caused a

Merchandise is essentially another way of communication,
and it will be passed around to peers, family, and younger
generations who may end up growing up with the stigma that

Kim 10
“First World Problems” and “eating less” always have and will be jokes. Again, the best way to
discourage customers from buying such offensive “First World Problems” merchandise is to help
the public understand that “First World Problems” are no laughing matter and encouraging the
hashtag may eventually be harmful to both the First and Third World nations. Amber Hunt of writes that “customers who complain [to companies] via social media are often
getting better treatment than those who call or email,” and this is because “social media is
public” (Hunt). It is possible to even ban certain merchandise when there are enough voices of
opposition that are directly reaching the creators of the merchandise, such as the case with Urban
Since the entire “First World Problems” trend began and evolved within social media, the
most powerful way to stop its growth is also through social media. Even though it has become a
part of the social media culture, continuously reminding and informing social media users of the
detrimental nature of the phrase can help slowly kill the popular trend. People must realize that
complaining on social media is not necessarily horrible, but tagging their complaints along with
the hashtag is absolutely unnecessary. The most practical way to begin solving this issue is by
simply being aware of all potential harmful effects; it is best to remain cautious with all trends
that float around the internet and have context before joining the trend. The online world of
social media should be a place to raise awareness of serious matters to make improvements to
society, instead of attacking one another in a meaningless competition of privilege.

Kim 11
Works Cited
Café Press. First World Problems Gifts. CafePress Inc. Web. 1 Dec. 2014.
Chen, Adrian. “Facebook Removes Pro-Rape Pages, Kicking and Screaming.” Gawker. Kinja, 9
Nov. 2011. Web. 1 Dec. 2014.
Covin, Roger. “Why We Shouldn’t Dismiss First World Problems.” Huffpost Living., Inc., 11 Mar. 2014. Web. 26 Nov. 2014.
Facebook. “Controversial, Harmful and Hateful Speech on Facebook.” Facebook Safety.
Facebook Inc., 28 May 2013. Web. 3 Dec. 2014.
Facebook. “Facebook Community Standards.” Facebook Inc. Web. 1 Dec. 2014.
Friedman, Chandler, and Ed Payne. “Viral Ad Campaign Hits #FirstWorldProblems.” CNN
Tech. Cable News Network, 23 Oct. 2012. Web. 27 Nov. 2014.
Garrett, Shawn (ShawnGarrett). “Spent too much time in the hot tub and now my thumb is too
wrinkled to unlock my phone. #firstworldproblems.” 20 Oct. 2014. 4:19 p.m. Tweet.
The Gift of Water. “First World Problems Anthem.” Youtube. Youtube, 3 Oct. 2012. Web. 18
Oct. 2014.
Greig, Alex. “Urban Outfitter Under Fire For Selling T-Shirt Glamorizing Depression – Just
Two Years after being Forced to Pull Another with Slogan ‘Eat Less.’” Daily Mail
Online. Associated Newspapers Ltd, 5 Jan. 2014. Web. 3 Dec. 2014.
Hamad, Ruby. “The Problem with First World Problems.” Fairfax Media. 5 Mar.
2013. Web. 21 Oct. 2014.
Higa, Ryan. “First World Problems.” YouTube. YouTube. 8 Oct. 2012. Web. 3 Dec. 2014.
Holland, Gale. “L.A. County’s Homeless Population Difficult to Quantify.” Los Angeles Times.
4 Jul. 2014. Web. 26 Oct. 2014.

Kim 12
Hunt, Amber. “Need to Complain? Use Social Media.” Gannett Co., 21 Apr.
2014. Web. 3 Dec. 2014.
Kennedy, Michelle. “27 Myths about the Developing World.” Global Citizen. Global Citizen, 22
May 2014. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.
Langley, Travis. “Stop Picking on People for their ‘First World Problems.’” Psychology Today.
Sussex Directories, Inc., 8 Aug. 2014. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.
O’Toole, Emer. “Despite its flaws, #firstworldproblems ad campaign breaks new ground.” Guardian News and Media Limited. 9 Oct. 2012. Web. 19. Oct. 2014.
Paulat, Lizabeth. “Demystifying the Idea of ‘First World Problems.’” Care2 Inc. 28.
Apr. 2014. Web. 22. Oct. 2014.
Ryan, Amanda. “A Brief History and Rap Video about First World Problems.” Sharocity:
Finding What Connects us, One Thing at a Time. Sharocity, 4 Jan. 2013. Web. 25 Oct.
Twitter. “Abusive Behavior Policy.” Help Center. Twitter Inc. Web. 1 Dec. 2014.
Yankovic, Al. “’Weird Al’ Yankovic – First World Problems.” YouTube. YouTube. 21 Jul.
2014. Web. 3 Dec. 2014.
Zellmer, Shelby (sdzellmer). “My dad is mad right now because the wifi isn’t working and he
can’t play Xbox. #firstworldproblems.” 19 Oct. 2014. 8:17 a.m. Tweet.

Kim 13
Images Works Cited
Figure 1: “Third World Problems in the US.” Goodify: Do Good. Have Fun. Wordpress, 8 Feb.
2012. Web. 1 Dec. 2014.

Figure 2: Garrett, Shawn (ShawnGarrett). “Spent too much time in the hot tub and now my
thumb is too wrinkled to unlock my phone. #firstworldproblems.” 20 Oct. 2014. 4:19 p.m.
Zellmer, Shelby (sdzellmer). “My dad is mad right now because the wifi isn’t working and he
can’t play Xbox. #firstworldproblems.” 19 Oct. 2014. 8:17 a.m. Tweet.

Figure 3: Yankovic, Al. “’Weird Al’ Yankovic – First World Problems.” YouTube. YouTube. 21
Jul. 2014. Web. 3 Dec. 2014.

Figure 4: Broderick, Ryan. “Facebook Still Doesn’t Consider Rape Jokes to be Hate Speech.”
BuzzFeed News. Buzzfeed, 28 May 2013. Web. 1 Dec. 2014.

Figure 5: Café Press. First World Problems Gifts. CafePress Inc. Web. 1 Dec. 2014.

Figure 6: Greig, Alex. “Urban Outfitter under Fire for Selling T-shirt Glamorizing Depression–
Just Two Years after being Forced to Pull Another with Slogan ‘Eat Less.’” Daily Mail Online.
Associated Newspapers Ltd, 5 Jan. 2014. Web. 3 Dec. 2014.