Lentis/Internet Memes

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An Internet meme is an activity, concept, catchphrase or piece of media that gains popularity and spreads rapidly via the Internet[1]. An online meme can take many forms: images, animated GIFs, phrases, hashtags or even videos. They are often helped along by social networking sites and blogs, such as Reddit, 4chan, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube that post and repost popular internet memes. This causes internet memes to have a tendency to evolve and spread extremely quickly, sometimes going in and out of popularity in a matter of days.

The rapid growth and impact of internet memes has caught the attention of both researchers and the advertising industry alike. Academically, researchers model how they evolve and predict which memes will survive and spread throughout the Web. Commercially, they are used in viral marketing, where they are an inexpensive form of mass advertising.


Group Mentality[edit]

Popular memes survive because they reflect an idea, practice or thought process of which people can relate to. The internet allows people to assemble into different online networks, and internet memes spread between and throughout these groups. Many memes contain references to pop culture, and are effective if these references are popular amongst internet users. For example, a popular internet meme involves an image from a Dos Equis beer marketing campaign of “The Most Interesting Man in the World.” The phrase popularized by this campaign, “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis,” has been used in conjunction with the image as a template for thousands of memes[2]. Usually one of the top options offered on sites devoted to the creation of memes[3][4][5], its popularity can be attributed to its reference to the Dos Equis commercial. The meme would not have the full effect if seen by someone unfamiliar with the commercial. In this sense, the meme appeals to a large social group on the internet: those familiar with the commercial.

Memes also exist that cater to more specific social groups, such as college students[6], video game advocates[7], sports fans[8], music fans[9], and other popular online communities. These communities contain inside jokes that are easily spread through memes. In psychology, an ingroup is a social group in which a person psychologically identifies as being a member, while an outgroup is a social group in which an individual does not identify. Memes containing references to a viewer’s ingroup(s) will be more effective than if referencing something unfamiliar to the viewer (ie. in their outgroup). The source of the meme in relation to a viewer’s ingroup(s) is also significant. People are more likely to spread internet memes that make people angry if the source of the video is from an “outgroup member”[10]. If a meme is shared by someone who is perceived to be an ingroup member, it is more likely to gather attention of the viewer.

Sharing Self-Created Content[edit]

Because of the simplicity of internet memes, specifically those image-based, several websites exist that allow users to create their own memes [11][12][13][14]. The prevalence of these websites show that humans derive significant satisfaction from sharing self-created content. It has even been suggested that humans “may get a neurochemical reward from sharing information, and a significantly bigger reward from disclosing their own thoughts and feelings than from someone else’s” [15]. People create memes and share them to gain status and obtain social feedback. Both of these activate the brain’s reward system, a system known to be triggered by “primary rewards (food and sex) and secondary rewards (money)." This reward as a result of self-disclosure is similar to that of a slot machine, in the sense that the human brain anticipates a possible reward.

Manifest Function[edit]

The Manifest function of internet memes is entertainment; they are used to make people laugh, spread ideas, and waste time. Internet memes are so popular because their content evokes a strong emotional response, be it positive or negative. This process is known as emotional contagion: "a process through which emotions spread like a disease and are therefore considered contagious"[16]. For example, when people watch video clips they may be able to empathize with the characters in the video, and by sharing it with others, they are anticipating that the recipient will also feel the same emotional response. Internet memes that evoke the strongest emotional response, and are hence the most entertaining, tend to survive longer than those that don't evoke such a strong response. The success of internet memes is judged by their ubiquity and popularity, which is correlated to the most emotionally relatable memes.

Latent Function[edit]

We see in society how technology shifts power among different social groups. Those who embrace and understand new technology are able to use it to advance the ball in their direction, while those who don't are struggling to keep up. Internet memes are just another piece of technology, a tool, that different social groups have access to. Today, Internet memes are often used to spread ideas that further one's self interest or agenda.

Furthering One's Self Interest[edit]

YouTube and the Harlem Shake[edit]

YouTube provides an easy-to-use medium for videos to spread freely. YouTube gives 55% of the ad revenue to the uploader of the video, which usually amounts to $2 for every 1000 views.[17] Many people make a living by creating video memes on YouTube and even more create memes just to generate a short-term profit. The Harlem Shake is one example of this.

The Harlem Shake was started by a sketch comedy group in Australia on February 2nd, 2013. In a week, the video reached 4000 views per day; there were 12,000 different versions and a total of 44 million views aggregated across the different versions. Within a month, this total hit 1 billion. The video was popular because of the anticipation of the breakout moment and the short length, making it very accessible. [18] The creators used this meme not only to generate revenue, but also to promote their comedy group. Popular YouTube channels have compiled the "best" Harlem Shake videos, based on their opinion. This allows different groups who joined in on the meme with their own version to promote themselves as well.

The Karma System[edit]

The creation of the karma system is an example of how internet users can use memes to further themselves in society. Certain websites, such as Reddit, implement a karma system where users have a number that represents their overall worthiness. Good actions such as submitting interesting content or making valuable comments increase your karma, while bad actions such as submitting spam or trolling decreases your karma. [19] Recently, the term karma whoring was created to to label someone who seeks to raise his social standing within an online community by pandering stereotypical prejudices and trends that are widely accepted by its members. Karma whores will often repost popular content or link to websites with an overwhelmingly popular reception. [20]

Agenda Advancing[edit]

Internet Memes as Advertisement[edit]

Many companies have taken advantage of popular Internet memes, using them to advertise their own products. For example, Abercrombie and Fitch made one of the most successful ads of 2012 when they created a parody of the popular song, Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen. Wonderful Pistachios is also known for its ad campaigns featuring celebrities and popular internet memes.

However, not all hijacking of memes are successful. Microsoft received a lot of criticism on the Internet when they used the Double Rainbow meme. The ad was perceived to be overly corporate and not in the spirit of the original video. [21]

While most successful advertisements, such as the ones above, evolved from existing Internet memes, memes can also evolve from advertisements, such as the Old Spice commercial.[22] While new versions of memes will quickly expire in the case of commercialized memes, Different versions of the Old Spice meme has evolved, spreading the product's name and popularity. The latter type of advertisement, while more difficult, sees more success due to the nature of how Internet memes are created, spread, and killed.

Obama Girl[edit]

Along with furthering self interest, memes are also used to further one’s agenda in politics, religion, or any current event. Obama girl is one example of this. In 2007, a video of Amber Lee Ettinger singing an original song titled “I got a crush on Obama” in a bikini was posted. The video was extremely popular, and currently has 26 million views on Youtube. She continued to star in other barelypolitical videos. Creators were using these online videos to help promote the election, and although they don’t believe any one video by itself made a big difference, it definitely got Obama’s name out there, especially since this was before the democratic candidate was decided. [23]

There are many other Internet memes and entire webpages devoted to making showing off memes that are both conservative and liberal in nature. The same is true for different religious beliefs. In almost any topic, you can find Internet memes that both support and oppose different opinions.


Internet memes are important because they are so ubiquitous. They are used for their latent function in advertising and furthering self interest, and they spread easily due to their manifest function in entertaining and informing. Most importantly, they give us insight into human nature. Internet memes demonstrate mankind's desire for a connected society.