20 Memes That Ruined People's Lives

20 Memes That Ruined People's Lives
VOICE OVER: Patrick Mealey WRITTEN BY: Jordy McKen
Memes are all well and good until they start destroying people's lives. For this list, we'll be looking at the most notable incidents where a piece of viral content badly affected the life of someone involved in one way or another. Our countdown of memes that ruined people's lives includes Hide The Pain Harold, Overly Attached Girlfriend, Miss South Carolina, Scumbag Steve, and more!

Memes That Ruined People's Lives

Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re examining 20 Memes That Ruined People's Lives.

For this list, we’ll be looking at the most notable incidents where a piece of viral content badly affected the life of someone involved in one way or another.

Do you have any fascinating backstories about memes? Let us know below!

Hide The Pain Harold

Birthing into the public consciousness in 2011, memes featuring an older gray-haired man smiling through discomfort took the internet by storm. Known as Hide the Pain Harold and Maurice, the man behind the forced smile is Hungarian András Arató. After he uploaded images on social media of his vacation, a photographer got in touch, and Arató agreed to shoot many stock photos. Out of interest, he looked up the images later, and he -- and especially his wife -- wasn’t happy to see what people had done with them as it had gone beyond what he initially agreed to. Once Arató took ownership, he could control the narrative more, and media work started to flow in.


Better known as Drachenlord, German Rainer Winkler came into the YouTube scene in 2012 with a passion for heavy metal and soon began streaming video games. However, during a Q&A video, he gave out his real name. This allowed people to find his sister and contact her. Angry at this, the streamer released a video with his address and provoked trolls to act. While this clip was deleted, the damage was done. Winkler has often had strange occurrences at his house, including trespassing. He didn’t help himself with several controversies over the years involving racism and sexism. In 2022, Winkler was banned from YouTube. The following year, he announced his retirement from public life. However, Winkler continues to post on TikTok.


In 1996, college student Jennifer Ringley broke the internet mold. Regularly, her webcam took a grainy picture and uploaded it on her website JenniCam to showcase her day-to-day life in her room. And it became super popular as millions tuned in to see what Ringley was up to. In the early days, she included more risqué moments, and that drew the attention of hackers. They took over her website and sent her death threats. After setting up her talk show “The JenniShow” and appearing on mainstream media, by 2003, Ringley had enough of publicizing her life all the time, especially after her affair received criticism. So, she turned her site off and became private once again.

Ashley Vanpevenage

In 2015, college student Ashley Vanpevenage was struggling with acne. Hoping to boost her confidence, her friend Andreigha Wazny used makeup to hide the condition. After uploading the before and after photos on the Instagram account “makeupbydreigh,” the images began to be used elsewhere. Eventually, Vanpevenage’s photos were used as the punchline in cruel and misogynistic jokes. Seeing her photo appear on her own social media feed, Vanpevenage released a YouTube video criticizing the memes and giving her views on the situation. The whole incident caused her to avoid public without full makeup due to the embarrassment of her condition. Later, she vastly reduced her social media use due to the mocking.

Mariah Anderson

In 2015, on social media, Kyra Pringle uploaded a photo of her young daughter Mariah Anderson, who had MECP2 duplication syndrome. This condition can cause numerous symptoms, including particular facial characteristics and delayed development. Soon after, the photo found its way to the harsher side of the internet, including the attention of trolls who used the image for their cruel jokes and insults about Anderson’s appearance. Pringle appeared on the news soon after the photo was ridiculed to heavily criticize those making fun of her daughter, telling them she isn’t a monster and that she’s real. Thankfully, some of those who insulted Anderson did apologize for their horrendous words.

Overly Attached Girlfriend

In 2012, Laina Morris burst into internet lore with her parody of Justin Bieber’s song “Boyfriend” for a contest, where she played an intense, unblinking partner. From there, the Overly Attached Girlfriend spawned countless memes, giving Morris a sudden surge of celebrity and several job offers. However, a couple of years afterward, the pressure of being a public figure affected her mental health, causing her to fall into depression. By 2017, Morris’s YouTube channel was decreasing its amount of content after a break. In 2019, she uploaded an emotional retirement video as a public figure to YouTube due to her mental health struggles. And beyond a brief anniversary clip in 2022, Morris has remained in retirement.

Kony 2012

In 2004, Jason Russell co-founded Invisible Children, a charity that raises awareness of the work of the Lord's Resistance Army in Central Africa. In 2012, the Russell-directed film “Kony 2012” was released. It detailed the efforts to capture LRA figurehead, Joseph Kony. This short documentary was so popular that the film’s website crashed! And Russell was in high demand as the media flocked to speak with him. But there was also a lot of criticism over the project’s content. Shortly after its release, Russell had a public breakdown where he was naked on the streets of San Diego, California, making obscene gestures and vandalizing vehicles. He was sectioned in a psychiatric hospital for several weeks while he recovered. Now, Russell is doing much better.

Go Titans One

Originally taken in 2004 for an art class at Vanderbilt University, the original photo showed Adam Holland, a teen with Down syndrome, proudly showing off his artwork with the words “Go Titans One.” But a couple of years later, the photo was used by horrendous people to mock those with special needs. Trolls altered the piece of paper to state cruel jokes about Holland, often with slurs. Even the Florida radio station WHPT-FM got in on the harassment by using the photo for a crass bit. Infuriated with the terrible jibes at their son, in 2013, the Holland family issued a $18 million lawsuit against a host of those responsible. In 2015, the Hollands were awarded $150,000 by a jury.

Nek Minnit

With just a brief clip taken from an independent skate film, the life of Levi Hawken changed in a moment. The New Zealander was doing a bit, talking about the broken scooter on the floor. As he goes on to say “next minute,” it comes out unusual, and it quickly spread online in 2011. But often, it involved people mocking him for his appearance and speech impediment. Hawken has ectodermal dysplasia, which causes abnormalities with skin and hair growth, among others. When he was out and about, he was often recognized as the person in the video. But soon, Hawken realized people were often laughing at him, not with him. To escape the mocking, he focuses on his career as a professional skateboarder and artist.

Miss South Carolina

Having won 2007's Miss South Carolina Teen USA, the next step was the Miss Teen USA pageant for Caitlin Upton. But after being asked about her thoughts on why US citizens couldn't find their country on the map, Upton fumbled the response, which gained plenty of traction online as people made gags about it. After appearing on news programs afterward, where Upton gave an eloquent response to the same question, people still wouldn’t let it drop. She secured modeling contracts and appeared in music videos, yet the abuse continued as people mocked and harassed her. She even received death threats. It made Upton consider taking her own life. Thankfully, she’s doing much better today as she works as a real estate agent.


In 2007, a video went viral, depicting a jacked guy who looked like a Viking dancing to techno music. People were captivated, and a little intimidated, by the person nicknamed Technoviking. Originally shot by Matthias Fritsch in 2000 at a Berlin music parade, the clip brought profits for the filmmaker through ad revenue, and later, sales of t-shirts featuring the famous subject. However, a couple of years later, Technoviking’s lawyers asked Fritsch to take down the video citing improper use of his “personality rights.” Failure to comply, and he’d be sued for €250,000. Both parties eventually reached a compromise in court that essentially bankrupted Fritsch. In 2015, Fritsch released a crowdfunded documentary on Technoviking, with changes to the clips, of course.

Scumbag Steve

In 2011, you couldn’t go on social media without seeing the infamous image of Scumbag Steve. The picture, which showed a guy in a backwards cap and fake fur coat, went viral after people started tagging it with mocking captions. But while it was hilarious content for most, this meme soon became a nightmare for the guy in the photo - Blake Boston. Boston was just 16 years old back in 2006 when his mom took the picture for her photography class. Shortly after going viral, Boston and his family were harassed with phone calls all day, with some even wishing bad for his unborn child. Boston later took advantage of his newfound fame, releasing the rap single “Scumbag Steve Overture” in 2012.

Dog Poop Girl

If you’ve witnessed someone not clean up after their dog, you know how infuriating it can be. But that still doesn’t make it okay to harass them. In 2005, an image spread online showing the aftermath of a woman’s pup letting loose on the subway in Seoul, South Korea. While the lady cleaned up her dog, she refused to sort out the grim mess on the floor before getting off at her stop. This meant strangers had to step in and wipe it away. The internet soon discovered her identity, which was creepy enough, but then sent her so much abuse, she reportedly had to quit university. The woman even made a public apology, hoping to reduce the backlash.

Wentworth Miller

Several actors have earned near-universal love for their film and TV performances. Brendan Fraser, Keanu Reeves, Morgan Freeman… and Wentworth Miller. But in 2016, the “Prison Break” star was maliciously targeted by entertainment website LADbible. The group posted a side-by-side image of Miller at different points in his life that seemed to make a “joke” of his weight gain. Miller responded on social media that the picture was taken back in 2010, when he had taken a break from acting and was struggling with depression. In a rare moment, he had gone for a walk with a friend and was photographed smiling by the press. The next day, LADbible took down the post and issued a public apology to Miller.

Impossible Is Nothing

In 2006, Aleksey Vayner sent a particularly striking video résumé to investment bank UBS. It showed Vayner responding to a question with a long monologue on complex business concepts, all intertwined with clips of him supposedly performing various acts. While it was intended as part of a job application, the video spread like wildfire after someone at UBS forwarded it to other banks. This led to the media examining Vayner’s life and poking holes at some of his past claims. Vayner threatened legal action against UBS and YouTube, but that only seemed to fuel parodies of the video, with actor Michael Cera and “How I Met Your Mother” getting in on the fun. In 2013, Vayner sadly passed away from a heart attack.

Alex From Target

In 2014, then-16-year-old Alex Lee was working the cash register at Target when his life turned upside down. Apparently, someone had taken a photo of him working and uploaded it online. The picture soon got a lot of attention and the resulting hashtag #AlexFromTarget appeared on the trending list. Lee became an overnight internet sensation, racking up millions of followers and even appearing on “Ellen” to discuss his newfound fame. However, the dark side of this popularity soon erupted. Lee and his family had their personal information released online, which opened the door to a flood of threatening messages. Although he capitalized on the fame initially, even once dabbling in a music career, Lee has since disappeared from social media.

Plastic Surgery

Back in 2012, Taiwanese model Heidi Yeh appeared in an advert for a cosmetic clinic. The ad depicted a seemingly attractive couple with three children who look vastly different from them. A sort of tongue-in-cheek joke about plastic surgery. According to her contract, the picture couldn’t be used by another clinic. But the advertising agency did just that and it went viral. This then sparked a fake story that the husband in the picture sued Yeh for lying about her plastic surgery before having children with him. Sadly, many people bought into this tale. Yeh saw job opportunities dry up as companies believed she’d had cosmetic work done. In 2015, she estimated her potential loss at around $123,000 due to this falsehood.

Star Wars Kid

At some point, we’ve all reenacted our favorite film scenes. But not many of us have then been victims of online attacks as a result. In 2002, 15-year-old Canadian Ghyslain Raza recorded himself doing some Darth Maul-esque moves. The following year, the video was released without his permission, and Raza was nicknamed “Star Wars Kid” by blogger Andy Baio. Soon after, Raza received violent, threatening messages from people online, and also had to deal with harassment at school. His parents sued the families of those who released the video for $160,000, but eventually settled out of court. In 2022, Raza appeared in the documentary “Star Wars Kid: The Rise of the Digital Shadows,” and received an apology from Baio for his involvement.

Pepe the Frog

This character was first created in 2005 by cartoonist Matt Furie for his comic “Boy’s Club.” Since then, Pepe the Frog has taken the internet by storm, popping up on 4chan and Tumblr with his unique and occasionally “rare” expressions. The green creature became somewhat controversial in 2015 when it was unofficially adopted as a mascot for the alt-right movement. Furie particularly hated this association and even brought lawsuits against extremist organizations that used it. Frustrated with this hateful connotation, Furie discontinued the character in 2017, although he plans to bring it back at some point. His efforts were not in vain though, as he won a $15,000 settlement against Infowars in 2019 for co-opting Pepe in their content.


In 2016, the world was shocked by what went down at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. A three-year-old boy had gotten into the gorilla enclosure and was dragged around by one resident, Harambe. Controversially, the western lowland gorilla was gunned down over fears for the kid’s safety. This sparked outrage online. Many, many memes of Harambe flooded the internet as people took the gorilla’s side. However, some went way too far and began harassing those involved. People accused the boy’s mom, Michelle Gregg, of being a bad mother and called for her to lose her job. Some even made petitions to hold her liable for Harambe’s death. Gregg ended up deleting social media in a bid to escape it all.