An Internet meme is an activity, concept, catchphrase or piece of media which spreads, often as mimicry or for humorous purposes, from person to person via the Internet.
It most commonly takes the form of an image, frequently an animated or still image macro . Hyperlinks, video, websites, and hashtags can be used as internet memes as well. Catch phrases, slogans, logos, sometimes including an intentional or unintentional misspelling can become memes on social media platforms. These small movements tend to spread from person to person via social networks, blogs, direct email, or news sources. They may relate to various existing Internet cultures or subcultures, often created or spread on various websites, or blogs, and other social media communications sites. Instant communication through digital devices facilitates rapid multiple word-of-mouth transmission .
The word meme was coined by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, as an attempt to explain the way cultural information spreads.
Internet memes are a subset of this general meme concept specific to the culture and environment of the Internet. The concept of the Internet meme was first proposed by Mike Godwin in the June 1993 issue of Wired.
A meme is an idea, behaviour, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture — often with the aim of conveying a particular phenomenon, theme, or meaning represented by the meme. A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices, that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena with a mimicked theme. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures.
The self-replicating and mutating component of memes in a digital mass media environment means that memes can change dramatically in their intent and original message. A recent example of this shifting intent is Pepe the Frog, which was hijacked and given a racist intent by those in the extreme American right .
Because Mass Media conveys intentional and unintentional messages, and visual fields of information are highly susceptible to context clues and placement, internet memes are fluid in meaning and intent. With their highly visual content and digital text environment being so flexible in layout and incorporating layers of information ( audio, colour, size, shape, and animation ), internet memes can change meaning much faster than regular language. So, as Heraclitus might say, you can not step into the same meme twice.
For more information & insight on memes see Project 3: Exercise 4.3 – Memes.
For a more alternative creative expression approach to memes see my Implied Spaces post, What is the Meme-ing of This