Internet memes are units of popular culture that are shared, imitated, and changed by users.
The first meme on the internet was the sideways 'smiley' :-) , created in 1982. The practice of using punctuation markers to show emotion spread quickly and later other expressions, such as :-( and ;-) were added.
The first example of digital viral content is the Hampster Dance meme - rows of dancing hamster GIFs - created by an art student in 1998.
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The content shared online is always changing because of the creativity of users who remix, parody, or caption popular images or videos, to create memes.
Memes may seem basic, but from a linguistic point of view, they're remarkably sophisticated, expressing and sharing ideas and opinions.
Memes have their origins in the world of academia. Richard Dawkins coined the term 'meme' in his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene. Dawkins describes a meme as "a unit of cultural transmission or imitation."
The word comes from the Greek 'mimema', meaning imitated.
New memes emerged that included animals with human characteristics, such as Advice Dog and Grumpy Cat.
Later in the naughties, memes began to feature celebrities and ordinary people, like Charlie Bit My Finger and Leave Britney Alone. These memes came from viral videos or a media event.
Memes are also used to promote certain political ideas or ideologies.
Websites such as Meme Generator can use the humor of memes to try and destroy the arguments of rival political movements.
Several online communities focus on creating and spreading memes, so the idea becomes viral. These communities have become very influential.
Little is understood about the way memes spread or how they influence.
Studies on the ‘viral’ tendencies of articles showed that:
Richard Dawkins introduced the term meme in his classic The Selfish Gene, defining it as a unit of information that spreads via imitation. He noted that memes evolve via natural selection just as in evolution.
The internet has always been a fertile ground for the accelerated breeding of memes. But TikTok is a form of assisted evolution in which humans & machine learning algorithms accelerate memetic evolution. (Memes can start from almost anything on TikTok. It can be the lyrics of a song, or just the vibe of a track, or both)