Here’s Where The ‘Learn To Code’ Meme Originated. Hint: Not 4Chan.

Boy student programming at computer in dark classroom
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The meme is coming from inside the house.

 

For days now, journalists on Twitter have been complaining about being harassed by people telling them: “Learn to code.”

The phrase started to be used after Buzzfeed and the Huffington Post announced massive layoffs. Laid off reporters started seeing harassment in the meme, and subsequently whined.

NBC reporter Ben Collins suggested the meme was “an ingenious cover story of highlighting journalistic softness with Learn To Code, then expected cruelty underneath.”

TheWrap media editor Jon Levine tweeted Monday morning that a Twitter spokesperson told him that “tweeting ‘learn to code’ at any recently laid off journalist will be treated as ‘abusive behavior’ and is a violation of Twitter's Terms of Service.”

Levine followed that tweet up by saying the spokesperson was walking back what they originally told him, and now said: "It's more nuanced than what you reported. Twitter is responding to a targeted harassment campaign against specific individuals — a policy that's long been against the Twitter Rules"

With all the fuss surrounding the meme, the question became: Where did “learn to code” come from? The answer? From journalists themselves, during the Obama administration.

As conservatives decried President Barack Obama’s “war on coal” and coal-plant shutdowns, media outlets rushed to report that laid off coal workers could learn to code in order to get a new job.

 

NPR, Wired, The New York Times and many other outlets ran with these stories, which seemed to some as elite media outlets mocking blue-collar workers for losing their jobs.

Now people on Twitter are turning this around on journalists who have lost their jobs, because if it’s so easy for a coal worker to start a new career as a coder, surely the elite, educated, smarter-than-the-rest-of-us journalists and opinion writers can learn it as well.

Of course, since “journalists” can’t be expected to do even a modicum of research, they blamed the “harassment” on 4chan, searching for posts celebrating reporters losing their jobs and bragging about telling them to “learn to code.”

The phrase is not something new, and Google trends bears this out. The website Know Your Meme searched for the phrase “learn to code” and found the term began to spark interest in 2011. Interest has remained high since 2015, when the news articles about coal miners began to crop up.

This is not some grand conspiracy. While it is used in a mocking way, it is done so to mirror how journalists treated coal miners when they were laid off. As Tim Pool pointed out, at least one person has been suspended for tweeting “learn to code” at a journalist.

 

Maybe learning to code is too hurtful to journalists’ feelings. Coding wasn’t the only career change option the media suggested to laid-off coal workers. If coding is too hard, maybe beekeeping is more their speed?

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