Internet meme

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The term Internet meme is a phrase used to describe a catchphrase or concept that spreads quickly from person to person via the Internet, much like an esoteric inside joke.[1] The term is a reference to the concept of memes, although this concept refers to a much broader category of cultural information.



At its most basic, an Internet meme is simply the propagation of a digital file or hyperlink from one person to others using methods available through the Internet (for example, email, blogs, social networking sites, instant messaging, etc). The content often consists of a saying or joke, a rumor, an altered or original image, a complete website, a video clip or animation, or an offbeat news story, among many other possibilities. In simple terms, an internet meme is an inside joke, that everyone on the internet is in on. An Internet meme may stay the same or may evolve over time, by chance or through commentary, imitations, and parody versions, or even by collecting news accounts about itself. Internet memes have a tendency to evolve and spread extremely quickly, sometimes going in and out of popularity in just days. They are spread organically, voluntarily, and peer to peer, rather than by compulsion, predetermined path, or completely automated means.[2]

The term may refer to the content that spreads from user to user, the idea behind the content, or the phenomenon of its spread. Internet memes have been seen as a form of art.[3] There exist websites that collect and popularize Internet memes as well as sites devoted to the spread of specific Internet memes. The term is generally not applied to content or web services that are seen as legitimate, useful, and non-faddish, or that spread through organized publishing and distribution channels. Thus, serious news stories, videogames, web services, songs by established musical groups, or the like are usually not called Internet memes.[citation needed]

Types and uses


One common form of Internet meme is created when a person, company, product, musical group, or the like is promoted on the Internet for its pop culture value. Vanity sites, for example, are among the first recognized Internet memes.[2]

Inadvertent celebrity

Often, a person or company becomes infamous (or indeed famous) by virtue of an embarrassing video, e-mail, or other act.

Urban rumors and hoaxes

Many Internet memes are urban legends, fraud schemes, slander or false news stories that are either planted deliberately to become an Internet meme, evolve by mistake or rumor, or that jump from an offline source to the Internet. A relatively common example is the 2012 doomsday prediction. It is also common to create fake "for sale" listings on sites such as Craigslist or eBay for no other reason than to amuse people.[1] Other web sites collect lists of such hoaxes or offer services by which users can fact-check popular claims they find on the Internet in order to determine their source and whether or not they are true.

Advertising and marketing

Public relations, advertising, and marketing professionals have embraced Internet memes as a form of viral marketing to create marketing "buzz" for their product or service. Internet memes are seen as cost-effective, and because of their (sometimes self-conscious) faddishness, a way to create an image of cleverness or trendiness. Marketers, for example, use Internet memes to create interest in films that would otherwise not generate positive publicity among critics. The film Snakes on a Plane generated much publicity from this method.[4] Political operatives use Internet memes to shape opinion. Used in the context of public relations, the term would be more of an advertising buzzword than a proper Internet meme, although there is still an implication that the interest in the content is for purposes of trivia, ephemera, or frivolity rather than straightforward advertising and news.[5]

Image editing

Perhaps the most popular Internet memes are made by editing images (pictures, drawings, portraits, etc.) because of the ease that editing an image implies; these kind of Internet memes acquire a broad significance rapidly because they can be shared easily over the Internet. These images usually depict a same original image edited or modified in several ways. For example, some accessories may be added, colors or dimensions changed or the background/foreground replaced. Also, an existing image may be turned into a parody of a motivational poster using various websites, which gives a picture a background, title and brief description without needing to open up image editing software. Another trend is to create a totally new image or version of the original concept. An image with a natural or edited picture of a cat with a humorous caption are also common. These images are commonly referred to as lolcats and are commonly used as a joke or for a sarcastic remark. Many of these images originate from sites such as heavily-frequented Internet forums.

References to pop culture

Often Internet memes include references to current items of pop culture, such as popular movies, celebrities or news. Some examples of this are the Chuck Norris facts or the "Sparta!" meme, quoting (or 'referencing') popular lines from the movie 300. Some common lines quoted are:

"This is blasphemy. This is madness!"
"Madness?... This! Is! SPARTA!"
*300 Theme Song Plays*

Sometimes quoted lines are accompanied by images from the film, most commonly depicting one figure kicking another into a large black pit (such as a picture similar to common yellow-black warning signs: a stick-person kicking another into a pit with the warning "CAUTION: This is Sparta!" on the top and bottom).[6] Another common variation of the Sparta meme involves that of editing images by superimposing Leonidas' face over someone else's, and then add an image macro caption using lines from the film.[7]

Another example of a pop culture reference meme is the insertion of the name "Leeroy Jenkins" accompanying an ill-advised charge, following the staged events that occurred in World of Warcraft during a routine raid gone horribly wrong after the actions of the player "Leroy". This meme and its typical usage prior to a catastrophic strategic failure has become popular enough to appear on the prime-time NBC comedy series My Name Is Earl. In the show's 2008 Halloween episode, Randy Hickey charges into a fight with an angry mob with the battle cry, "Leeroy Jenkins!"[8]

Yet still other memes come from the world of anime. On English imageboards such as Ebaums it is popular to point out spelling, grammar, odd, or stupid phrases in fan-made subtitles of anime episodes. One such phrase comes from the anime series Fate Stay Night where Shiro, the male protagonist, says "People die when they are killed". A screen shot of this line has been posted and reposted hundreds of times to refer to someone who either says something totally obvious or when someone dies in an anime.

See also


Further reading

  • Gerson, Jen. "Meme's the word." Toronto Star Tuesday, August 22, 2006. LIFE, page C01.

External links

es:Fenómeno de Internet fr:Mème (internet) ko:인터넷 유행 hr:Internet fenomeni it:Fenomeno di Internet he:תופעת אינטרנט hu:Internetes mém nl:Internetmeme pt:Fenômeno da internet ru:Интернет-мем fi:Internet-ilmiö sv:Internetfenomen UK:Інтернет-мем zh:網路快速傳播現象

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