Assessment 3

Memes in social media

Irene Zhang
Student ID:470431483
Instructor: Rachael Bolton
Time: Wednesday 5-8 pm.


What is meme?

The definition of “meme” first came out by biologist Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene in 1976. As his theory refers to the evolution of cultural change, part of a larger effort. The word “meme” originates from the Greek word “mimema”, Dawkins defined meme as a small unit of the transmission, similar to the genes, which spread by copying or imitating from person to person. He also pointed out that the common adaptive meme of certain groups is often duplicated, then reinforcing each other during the process. In his concept of memes that include cultural artifacts or symbols such as a slogan, music melodies, catch-phrases, costumes, architectural styles and also abstract beliefs(e.g. the concept of god). Some memes are worldwide, while others are more specific cultures that shape collective action and state of mind. Akin to the gene, the meme was defined as replicators, the process of development are variation, selection, and retention. Although the process of development is the same as the genes, only memes fitted in the socio-cultural environment and success in spreading around. (Knobel & Lankshear, 2007). Since the theory was put forward, it has been questioned and ridiculed by experts.

However, in the Web 2.0 era, Internet users brought the theory back and added more definitions, functions, characteristics to memes. The word “meme” recently used to describe a particular items or ideas such as videos, written texts, jokes, rumors, or other units of cultural stuff that uptake and spread from person to person on the Internet. Since various apps on the Internet can make memes, and the Internet can spread quickly and accurately, it provides an ideal environment for the survival and development of meme (Heylighen, 1996). McNeill(2009) notes that memes actually reflect the cultural structure of modern society. Internet memes can be considered as the modern folk-custom, among which the shared norms and values are cultural relics such as Photoshopped images or urban legends

Meme genres

Internet users tend to engage in the popular culture and play by the rules of social media platform. What Internet users created and tracks they follow can be recognized as meme genres.     Wanda(1994)defined a process of meme creation as ”socially recognized types of communicative action”. These genres including memes’ structures and features, more specifically classify as topical subjects and intended audiences. Moreover, meme production process considered to be a “vernacular creativity”(Burgess,2007), that means the innovation and artistic practice in life can be brought out by simple means of production. Meme genres play an important role in building group identity and social boundaries. Here are two meme types we usually see on the social media platforms.

(1) LOLcats

 LOLCats are pictures of cats and usually combined with big size capital words in white color.Sometimes the sentence on the pictures is systematically misspelled in order to refer to the situation shown in the picture. The “LOLCats” is a combination of “LOL”(the Internet acronym of laughing out loud)and the word “cats”.


This meme genre gained its popularity in an image-posting board called “I Can Has Cheezburger”, which launched in 2007.

Miltner(2011) found LOLCats in her investigation that LOLCats memes are used to build and generating social boundaries.The process of meme creating to enjoying to “LOLCats” actually requires the literacy of the genre and the special language underpinning it, such as the expression ”CHESS GRAND MEOWSTERS” imitated the cat sound”meow”.It’s like a catlike English Internet language. The genre that containing inside jokes is understood by a group of people who are immersed in the digital culture.Moreover, LOLCats considered being an intermediary between users.Interpersonal communication is created when people sharing and sending LOLCats meme in order to convey feeling and states of mind.


(2)Rage comics

Rage comics are series of webcomics, the character in comics are pretty amateur-looking and always with ”rage faces ”. These series have a set of characters that associated with different manner and behavior.They often created a rough drawing and used to tell vagarious thoughts as well as real-life experience then end up with a hilarious punchline.


Date back to January 2009, the first rage comics uploaded on 4chan’s /b/ board with the introduction of a character called the Rage Guy in 4-panel comic format.The story is about the guy often caught in a situation that made him angry and screams in anger (FFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUU, widely known as “f7u12”). After that, rage comics have a great successful spreading outside 4chan into other communities. Shifan(2014) notes that:” The means for creating rage comics were also popularized, with the introduction of “Rage Makers” websites, on which users can create rage comics easily by reappropriating readymade characters”.In order to produce this genre of meme also need to familiar with every meaning of each character and follow the framework to tell a whole story.


Disadvantage of memes

When memes are free to be created by Internet users, it contained personal ideology, which will largely include racial discrimination and prejudice to some extent.  Milner(2012) indicates that memes often build visual language as well as carrying messages and response signals. Meme posted under a fierce battle online is frequently used as a weapon to express hostility. Although these memes that contained with sarcastic and mocking tones does achieve substantive exchange of opinion during the conversation, the exchanges of irritating language may lead to the climbing of aggression if conflict lasts longer.


Shifman(2014) gives an explanation to us:” Using memes in such contexts serves both to project a favorable position in the social field and to justify judgment, condemnation, and exclusion of others”. This means that meme is the birth of an internet culture. It is a symbolic force that can be created by participants to make connections and adversely can serve as a warning to the participants.


In conclusion, the emergence of the meme is not in the era of Internet 2.0, but it is reinvested more significance on Internet 2.0 era. Memes have diverse ways of presenting on our social platform. It is an intermedium for Internet users to express a state of minds, but at the same time, it can be used as discursive weapons.



Bernstein MS, Monroy-Hernández A, Harry D, et al. (2011) 4chan and /b/: an analysis of anonymity and ephemerality in a large online community. In: 5th international AAAI conference on weblogs and social media, Barcelona, 17–21 July, pp. 50–57. Menlo Park, CA: AAAI

Heylighen F (1996) Evolutions of memes on the network: From chain-letters to the global brain. In: Stocker G and Schöpf C (eds) Memesis: The Future of Evolution. Vienna and New York: Springer, 48–57.

Jean Elizabeth Burgess, “Vernacular Creativity and New Media” (Ph.D. diss.,Queensland University of Technology, Australia, 2007).

Kate Miltner(2011), “Srsly Phenomenal: An Investigation into the Appeal of LOLCats”(MA thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science, 2011).

Knobel M and Lankshear C (2007) Online memes, affinities, and cultural production. In: Knobel M and Lankshear C (eds) A New Literacies Sampler. New York: Peter Lang, 199–227.

Lynne McNeill(2009), “The End of the Internet: A Folk Response to the Provision of Infinite Choice,” in Folklore and the Internet, ed. Trevor J. Blank (Logan: Utah University Press, 2009), 80–97.

Milner RM (2012) The world made meme: discourse and identity in participatory media. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS.

Nissenbaum, A., & Shifman, L. (2017). Internet memes as contested cultural capital: The case of 4chan’s /b/ board. New Media & Society, 19(4), 483-501. doi:10.1177/1461444815609313.

SHIFMAN, L. (2014). Memes in Digital Culture. MIT Press. Retrieved from

Wanda J. Orlikowski and JoAnne Yates, “Genre Repertoire: The Structuring of Communicative Practices in Organizations,” Administrative Science Quarterly 39 (1994), 541–574.

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