Memes are a universal language of the internet. Not only do we share them to laugh, but also to communicate, criticize, and reflect on the current trends. Essentially, they speak of, or rather make a meme of what’s really buzzing right now: think of 2020 and 2021 memes, Squid Game memes, and Mike Pence’s fly on the head memes.
Some memes, on the other hand, refer to the things that most of us find very relatable. They identify a common experience, a feeling, and even an opinion. How come such personal things are so universal, you wonder? Well, we may not have the answers to the phenomenon, but we surely have a lot of hilarious memes of our daily lives in the hooman world to chuckle upon.
And thanks to the Instagram page “Is You Funny,” below is a whole collection of them to scroll through. According to the page’s description, it’s the “most relatable page on the gram,” and it seems like a whopping 2.7M followers would totally agree.
Memes are a quintessential part of the internet culture. It’s where they’re born, where they spread and where they evolve. Seemingly fun and lighthearted, they create a culture of unspoken referential importance by using explicit cultural knowledge, which is a big deal of its own accord. Thanks to them, it seems like there’s never a dull moment online. Today the concept of a meme has evolved into elaborate structures that can come in many forms, like challenges, videos, viral sensations, GIFs, and images with accompanying captions.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that from a linguistic point of view, memes are incredibly sophisticated. In fact, meme creators use “multimodal grammar,” which refers to a post which has both images and captions, to express and share ideas and opinions. As soon as a meme lands on social networks, people start sharing it and add their own personal meanings to the content. That’s why there’s never a final nor single meaning of a particular meme.
The fact that internet memes, units of popular culture, constantly circulate, imitate and transform with the help of users, makes them so special. Limor Shifman, a scholar who specializes in the study of internet memes, believes that a meme is not a single idea or image which is spread across social sites, but a group of items that were created with awareness of each other. Think of the internet’s beloved Grumpy Cat meme. Shifman would say that it’s not the cat itself, but the whole set of memes generated with its image, which is the meme.
On the other hand, with memes evolving so much in the past years, in some cases, they become vehicles for political messages, often used to spread aggressive or racist messages and to incite hatred. Emiliano De Cristofaro, an associate professor from UCL, has recently carried out the largest scientific study of memes to date, using a dataset of 160m images from various social networks.
“We showed how ‘fringe’ web communities associated with the alt-right movement, such as 4chan’s ‘Politically Incorrect’ board (/pol/) and Reddit’s ‘The_Donald’ are generating a wide variety of racist, hateful, and politically charged memes—and, crucially, spreading them to other parts of the internet,” De Cristofaro explained.
What De Cristofaro’s team found was that fringe social networks like /pol/ and Gab “share hateful and racist memes at an impressive rate, producing countless variants of antisemitic and pro-nazi memes.” Moreover, “memes like Pepe the Frog (and its variants) are often used in conjunction with other memes to incite hate or influence public opinion on world events, such as Brexit or the advance of Islamic State,” he said.
Moreover, the team at UCL found that, alarmingly, /pol/ was by far the most influential disseminator of memes, in terms of the raw number of images originating there. “In particular, it was more influential in spreading racist and political memes,” De Cristofaro said.
Just like with any other content on the internet, so with memes, users have to be aware of what kind of content they engage in, share and react to. While having a laugh at relatable memes like these ones in the post can indeed make your day brighter, encountering hateful memes is a whole other thing that’d better be reported.