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1.7: Memes

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    Often when people talk about what works in advertising online, they make it sound like it’s the content itself that decides to spread. This is the idea behind the word viral: It suggests some content is just irresistible and spread by its human hosts almost without their choosing.

    One or more interactive elements has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view them online here:

    The Salt Bae meme, from Turkish chef Nurs_et​

    Think about this. This virus idea just isn’t how media works. There wasn’t some virus that made you share a meme last year, or a song, or a video. If you shared that Salt Bae meme, it was because you wanted people to see it, and you wanted them to see it coming from you. You have human agency when you share things online, and you invest a piece of your identity in everything you share. You also may have strong reasons for sharing content, whether those reasons are personal, social, political, satirical, or all of these.

    Why do larger, experienced companies sometimes falter in making their content spreadable while some gestures, phrases, pics, and videos spread in ways even their creators could not predict and maybe didn’t even want? Misunderstandings abound as humans try to make sense of the relatively new world of social media content trends.

    Still, in this chapter, we will brave the pitfalls and offer some explanations and strategies for spreading content online. And we look at a few cases of companies and creators who have succeeded in making content spreadable, along with some spectacular failures.

    What is spreadability, and why is it important?

    social networks connecting individuals
    Social networks: To reach viewers today, advertisers must reach their contacts, because social media users are looking at each other, not directly at advertisers. (Image: social-media-552411_640, geralt,, CC0)

    The vocabulary used to refer to online sharing trends is unstable, with users adopting and spreading terms by users that may misrepresent what they name. Humans understand new phenomena in the world by comparing them to what we already know – which can be problematic, as the old and new phenomena will not be the same.

    Take the word meme, for example. It originated in the work of a biologist (Richard Dawkins, in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene) to describe something that spreads like a gene, only by cultural rather than biological means. But this definition is based on a metaphor rather than on observation of how content spreads. A better definition is one that acknowledges the qualities of memes – for example, noting that users often modify them as they spread them.

    So it is with the concept of the media virus. Users and popular media outlets refer incessantly to media “viruses” and “viral” media. But viruses are biological phenomena. Can cultural phenomena really behave the same way?

    The theorists Jenkins, Bell, and Green have written critically of the notions behind the concept of “viral media;” what they offer instead is the notion of spreadability. This relates to concepts we began discussing in Chapter 2 of this book, in the section on “The People Formerly Known as the Audience.” In the 20th century, advertising depended on one broadcasting outlet keeping the eyes of audiences directly on that broadcaster’s content. In the age of social media, though, users are not looking at that one broadcaster or television station; they are looking at each other. And with limitless choices and content online vying for their attention, to attract views you have to convince users to share your content with their publics: their families, “friends,” and networked contacts.

    viral communities

    Student Content, Fall 2020

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    The Influence of Social Media

    For this project, I chose to analyze Shawn Mendes and his fan group. I tried to focus specifically on Instagram, Twitter, and Tik Tok and looked to see what fans were posting in relation to Shawn Mendes. I began by starting with a very broad search of simply #ShawnMendes. This was a good start to my research because it showed me a culmination of all the possibilities for fan postings and other related content. Through this initial search, I saw that posts ranged anywhere from simply reposting original videos of Shawn Mendes as well as his social media posts and could also be fan edits and memes created through his content.

    As I began to dig deeper into other posts related to Shawn Mendes, I switched over to a very popular platform right now – Tik Tok. instead of viewing fan accounts on Tik Tok I simply viewed Shawn Mendes’ own account. Here I was able to see that after the most recent release of his song Wonder, many fans had been trying to get Shawn Mendes’ attention through dancing and reacting to his music video. These videos that fans created ranged anywhere from simply doing the dance he did in his music video to very cool edits of Shawn Mendes. Fans would post with the hopes that Shawn Mendes would repost their content as he has done with so many videos.

    As you can see through the rest of the screen recordings and videos, other content that is posted is also from other celebrities as well as fan accounts. Posts from other celebrities can simply be a picture of merch that Shawn Mendes may have sent them or banter between the two celebrities. Fans often jump on top of this media and repost it again creating an even bigger community surrounding one celebrity.

    It is very obvious that one celebrity can have a major impact on many fans. This community of fans, as well as the creator’s impact, creates a sort of crowdculture around the celebrity. Fans of the celebrity, other celebrities, and even the celebrity himself get involved in creating content and reposting in order to create a sort of community. Shawn Mendes’ die-hard fans even have a name for themselves – The Mendes Army.

    This large public that is created surrounding Shawn Mendes is not exclusive to this one artist. Many other celebrities have a large crowd following as well. For example, Justin Bieber’s fans call themselves the Beliebers and Miley Cyrus fans call themselves the Smilers. Social media is an amazing way to connect celebrities who you may never meet down to the individual fans that are listening to their music or watching their content. As a fan, you may never get to meet the celebrity you follow but one comment or repost can truly make your day and make you feel as though you can interact with your favorite celebrity.

    About the AuthorGraphic of the author

    A student at the University of Arizona. She is currently studying prenursing in hopes of becoming a pediatric nurse.

    Respond to this case study…Based on how this writer uses crowd culture as well as your own experiences and knowledge of the term, what is the effect that crowdcultures have on spreadability?

    One of the crucial points in Spreadable Media is that online cultures work together as agents to make content spread. A company cannot do it alone. Consumers of the media content a company desires to spread must become sharers, and even producers: liking, reposting, sharing with specific publics, meming, creating fanfiction offshoots, and making the content their own. Spreadability is Jenkins, Bell, and Green’s theory of how content spreads online – though spreadability is not a strategy any one agent can control. Indeed, spreadability requires some loss of control of content by the creator.

    To begin to understand how to make content spreadable in this way, let’s look at an example of content that spread almost inadvertently – without anyone really even planning for it to explode.

    Ken Bone as meme, truce, and unicorn

    Ken Bone during the 2016 presidential debate.

    During the second presidential debate in 2016, a man named Ken Bone asked a question and became an internet sensation via #BoneZone. Why?

    I always speak with my students about social media news. The day the Ken Bone memes exploded, I asked one insightful group I had why. Why did everyone go nuts over Ken Bone? In the discussion that followed, we went over several factors that helped Ken Bone spread so fast. Here are four of them:

    1. Ken Bone was easy to meme.

    His sweater was red. His face was small. His glasses were neat rectangles. His shape when cut out was roundy like a cloud. Ken Bone was so memeable he was drawn by Disney before his persona was born. With his collar shirt buttoned up all white and snug he appeared to have been lovingly dressed by his mom. In Pictionary, it would take at least 60 seconds to draw most people. Ken Bone, maybe 6 seconds. Instant recognition enables easy imitation, making Ken Bone’s image a very spreadable social object. Plus his name only takes up 7 characters. That’s spreadable.

    2. Ken Bone was a regular guy – very unlike both 2016 Presidential candidates.

    While their backgrounds were different, candidates Trump and Clinton had both long occupied the high halls of the privileged. Watching them battle one another on stage was like watching Godzilla and Mothra. Fascinating… but where were the humans to be tossed around in their struggle? Election cycles have grown so long, the American public’s attention span for the two candidates had begun to peter out. And then came the human caricature Ken Bone – like switching the channel first to a reality TV show, then a cartoon.

    3. Ken Bone was a national ceasefire.

    It has been a brutal election battle, with most of the American public in filter bubbles echoing with rage, and occasionally coming into hostile contact with the opposite side. And then came Ken Bone – a Twitter user called him, “a human version of a hug,” which a popular blogger subsequently rephrased as “a hug, personified.” Everyone could like him. He was a safe topic at family gatherings. And maybe he was a messenger dove, cooing in his kind voice that after that awful election, political enemies might eventually be able to talk to each other again.

    4. Ken Bone was an undecided voter – a unicorn.

    For many, it was difficult to believe any Ken Bones even existed. Viewers marveled when he appeared: There are undecided voters? In this polarizing election? Where do they live? Is it quieter there? Do rivers sparkle with the ether of forgetfulness? Oh my goodness… there’s one now! Bone’s fame only grew when it was discovered that before that pivotal 15 seconds of exposure, he had only 7 Twitter followers – and two were his grandmothers. What a wonderful little public that must be.

    The end of Ken Bone’s fame

    Of course. the truce between Clinton and Trump supporters could not last. Bone, online searches revealed, had posted things online in the past that not everyone could love. His brand was compromised. If only he’d lasted through Thanksgiving, we might not have needed Adele.

    The internet is a dangerous place for unicorns.

    Branding on social media

    vintage style ads for youtube, facebook, skype, and twitter
    What each major social media platform can do and is known for, as well as how advertising has changed.(Image: vintage, Mats Adamczak,, CC BY-SA)

    So if you are an advertiser, how do you do what Ken Bone did – combined with what viewers created out of what Ken Bone did – and how do you keep the resulting culture going? How do you make a lasting brand with spreadable content?

    One worthwhile analysis of this topic is in Holt’s Branding in the Age of Social Media in the March 2016 Harvard Business Review. Some important terms to understand from the article are branding, crowdcultures, and art worlds.

    In the article, Holt explains branding as “a set of techniques designed to generate cultural relevance.” What this means is, branding requires paying attention to cultures online. Cultures are kind of like publics, except cultures have much deeper roots. Cultures are practices, symbols, meanings, and much more shared by people who have coexisted in a place or other site or context. To brand successfully today you have to learn about the cultures you are marketing to: their inside jokes, trends, taboos, and so much that can be hard to understand to cultural outsiders.

    Holt writes that much of the internet is based in crowdcultures, which are cultures around certain concepts, including products. Crowdcultures can come from two sources, subcultures or art worlds. These crowdcultures may be subcultures – people who are deeply devoted to these concepts. Or they may come out of art worlds, with people talented in creating online content and making a culture more attractive and resonant even if it’s all very new. Ken Bone grew out of art worlds, with artistic people quickly meming him into videos and images, which attracted a crowdculture that continued to spread him.

    How did those initial art world creators know that Ken Bone would spread quickly? Maybe they didn’t. But if they did, they understood some of the beliefs and interests of the American people who spread him. They knew how to read the culture their crowd would come from.

    gen z Memes with anti-bullshit themes

    Student Content, Fall 2020

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    The #Trump2020 page on TikTok may not be what you think it is…

    Now I know when I think of #Trump2020, it’s not a page filled with democratic gen-z’ers. On TikTok though, if you were to look up #Trump2020 you would find endless videos of democratic teenagers and young adults who have turned this page into a kind of prank. This happened as a result of another trend where conservative republicans were posting videos spreading or being just a little too dramatic, that it was seen as a way to spark fear into some people. These kids ended up clapping back by starting a whole trend of making fun of these videos, as a way to discredit the false information being spread. Now, when you first hear this it sounds a lot like cyberbullying, which I understand and I think that some people can definitely take it too far, but overall all the videos are lighthearted and funny. I chose this topic, as an observer, to get a deeper look into how people have come up with new and entertaining ways of shutting down false information.

    One specific video that particularly caught my eye and millions of other people on the app, was a video of a Trump supporter who’s overall message on her video was that if Biden wins vaccines will be made to be mandatory and are bad. She made it like it was a scene from a movie, she commented on her video that she calls vaccines “the mark of the beast”, which is a chilling and frightening thing to have pricked into your arm. In her video she demonizes and makes vaccines out to be a scary thing that is enforced by horrible people; these people being President Biden and other democrats.

    Now, if I were a 13 year old on the app and I watched this without knowing any information I would be terrified and never want a vaccine. But the fact is that vaccines are good at preventing the spread of illness, and especially in light of the current situation we’re in with Covid, vaccines could help us reduce the lives being taken. Her video is terrifyingly spreading false information that is especially dangerous in a time like this, where we should be supporting the idea of vaccines. And I know that vaccines can be scary, because I am terrified of needles and am 19 years old and still ask for the nasal spray when I go in for my flu shot. But to make it be anything more than that, a scary needle, is bullshit. Now, some have responded to this video by leaving mean comments on her video calling her dumb, etc. But the responses that have gotten the most attention are gen Z democrats who have turned her into a meme. They respond with similar videos that just show how over dramatic and silly she was in her video. It’s a real life version of what her dramatic film like representation showed.

    I think that this kind of retort is smart and very much a common trend today in social media, yes we still have twitter where we respond with words, but for the most part today we respond with memes. This example I felt was very strong because it discredits the false information the original video was spreading while also being funny and not being mean. This trend is smart because there is a plethora of false information being spread (on both sides), but especially a spread in fear and it is a creative way for people to physically show how someone else is wrong. Overall this hashtag started out as a platform for people to spread a lot of false information on TikTok, but these groups on gen Z democrats, the same group who pranked Donald Trump and his rally over the summer, have once again struck by turning this hashtag and its content into a meme.

    About the AuthorGraphic of the author

    Alyssa De Leon is a current sophomore at the University of Arizona. She is a film and television major from northern California. She spends quarantine watching reality tv and baking.

    Holt breaks down to five steps the process for reading and marketing to a culture. Below I list each of these steps followed by an explanation. What is important to understand is that your company cannot do it alone; you need the help of users, tastemakers, bloggers, and others to become an internet sensation.

    1. Map the cultural orthodoxy.

    To read a culture and understand how to market to its members, first ask, “What are the conventions to break from?” If you want to attract the attention of Americans entrenched in pre-election political warfare, you might notice at this point that the cultural orthodoxy around the #debate at that time is intensely negative and partisan.

    2. Locate the cultural opportunity.

    The cultural opportunity means finding whatever is missing from the current landscape around that culture and seeing how you can fill that gap. If you noticed that election debate viewers are surrounded by negative, partisan media, the cultural opportunity might involve imagining something refreshingly hopeful and nonpartisan.

    3. Target the crowdculture.

    Once you’ve located the cultural opportunity, you must next locate the tastemakers and hubs for spreading content in that culture. What networks should you plug into once you have content to spread? For example, Buzzfeed found some of the initial user-created Ken Bone memes on social media sites like Twitter and Reddit and then spread them more widely.

    4. Diffuse the new ideology.

    Your new content piece is the new ideology, and it should “embrace subcultural mythologies” – joining the active conversations already taking place in the networks and cultures you are targeting. Still, you must be careful here to avoid whatever your content is trying not to be. No content mentioning Trump or Clinton spread in the Ken Bone meme. Talk of the candidates had been the orthodoxy, and everyone was tired of them! Referring to previous internet memes, however, might reactivate meming internet cultures.

    5. Innovate continually, using cultural flashpoints.

    Chipotle – Back to the Start from Nexus Studios on Vimeo.

    This is where many brands face challenges for continued success; new flashpoints are essential. Chipotle (as seen in the video embedded above) got the content part right long enough to do very well as a brand of healthy, natural food. But over time they struggled to remain relevant, and several outbreaks of foodborne illnesses drew into question Chipotle’s wholesome branding.

    The internet is full of content sensations that never became brands. #BoneZone and many other Ken Bone memes were initially unstoppable! But Ken Bone did not last long as a highly successful brand…which may have been ok with him as he never endeavored to be a brand in the first place. Remaining relevant in the age of social media requires constant monitoring of the cultures you must entice to promote your brand with you. And if you’re a countercultural meme (or even a countercultural brand), you can only last as long as your icon resists being taken over by the mainstream.

    Failing at branding: Pepsi’s 2017 “Black Lives Matter” ad

    In one of the worst advertising mishaps in recent years, a large company attempted to follow the steps for cultural branding – but severely misread the targeted cultures and their own product. In a 2017 commercial, the Pepsi corporation tried to capitalize on widespread attention to the Black Lives Matter movement (discussed in Chapter 6), while failing to hear all of the demands of the protestors at the center of that culture. Immediate backlash led them to take the ad down within 24 hours.

    How could Pepsi, a multinational corporation with decades of marketing experience, have gotten it so wrong?

    It is easy to speculate some of what Pepsi was going for. From the imagery in the ad, we can reasonably assume that Pepsi ad executives were inspired by dramatic images of real Black Lives Matter protesters that struck chords with online publics. And Pepsi execs may also have been trying to match the massive success their competitor Coca Cola had achieved with their Hilltop Ad, in which their product idealistically bonds young, attractive people across national, racial, and ethnic boundaries.

    But that Hilltop ad was 1971. And those dramatic images of Black Live Matter protestors involved real people putting themselves at risk to address persistent, thorny issues. Black Lives Matter had indeed gathered a formidable crowdculture – but a can of Pepsi had no place in their conversations. Placing a white woman with a Pepsi as the problem solver at the center of an explosive racial issue was deeply insulting to many people. Whichever Pepsi executive dreamed up the 2017 ad, it was a bad idea.

    This brings up a more important question: How did such a bad idea make it out of the drawing board room? Eric Thomas, a LinkedIn Brand Specialist, connects what happened in that room to a lack of diversity:

    “This is what happens when you don’t have enough people in leadership that reflect the cultures that you represent. Somewhere in the upper levels where this commercial was approved, one of two things happened. Either there was not enough diversity — race, gender, lifestyle, age or otherwise — or worse, there was a culture that made people uncomfortable to express how offensive this video is.”

    Internet cultures can dupe also advertisers in multiple ways. First, the level of bias and cultural appropriation online within connected publics may make fool advertisers into seeing widespread acceptance of these culturally insensitive practices. A recent exploration of “digital blackface” by New York Times journalist Amanda Hess captures one example of a common online practice big advertisers would be wise to avoid.

    The other misleading quality is that brands today are far more global than in the past, so branding is particularly tricky. Reading cultures well requires teams of people who acknowledge their own biases and think deeply about social issues. The takeaway from Pepsi’s spectacular failure, then, may be this: Diversity is essential in successful branding in the digital age. We have to welcome, listen to, and become all the voices at the table to get it right – or at least avoid spectacular wrongs.

    Losing Control of the Narrative: That Polar Bear and the Hot Mess of Spreadable Science Memes

    You probably saw it.

    From National Geographic’s YouTube Channel

    A “viral” video of an emaciated polar bear in 2017 led to significant chatter about climate change on social media. Yet there is another heating climate that has my colleagues and I worried as Information Scientists. Social media is a hotbed for videos, images, and memes about science: not just climate change but news on NASA activities, the EPA, vaccinations, and many other fiery topics for the American public. In this hot mess, our concern was – and remains – how difficult it has become to tell the truth.

    Why shouldn’t science be packaged and spread online? In recent years there has been an understandable push by scientists and those who fund our work to make our findings accessible. This has meant moving beyond peer-reviewed journals and science-focused publications, creating flashy media that will interest non-scientists, and unleashing it on social networks. These strategies seem reasonable: Our work is funded by the public, so it should be accessible to the public. More importantly, to fight human-caused phenomena like climate change we need to inspire shifts in human behavior on a massive scale. Social media seem designed for the mass appeal that our mission to educate requires.

    The problem arises when we chase public attention at the expense of good science. Yes, it is essential that scientists tell engaging stories – but the stories have to be about our findings, not just our observations. The video of the polar bear filmed by a photographer for SeaLegacy was first spread with no text on the video itself, separating hat project’s observations from deeper analysis.

    Was the bear’s sad condition related to climate change? Yes – but in complicated ways that the video did not convey. This lack of analysis invited users and media outlets like National Geographic to omit the initial poster’s description and meme it with their own interpretations on social media. The video and these less-than-scientific interpretations of its meaning spread like wildfire, prompting a mass reckoning over the effects of human behavior on our world – but also legitimate complaints about the accuracy of claims attached to the video. This spark of legitimate debate then quickly ignited across networks of climate change skeptics, playing as evidence that scientists lie.

    It is so tempting to package our stories to sell, rather than tell the whole truth. Researchers have found that content based on exaggerations and lies spreads faster on Twitter than content based on truth. The less true a story is, the more it may appear to be breaking news, and the easier it is to make it flashy.

    Is it worth it, burning past steps in the scientific method, to spread our message? Even in a warming world, we don’t think so. A 2016 Pew study found that less than a third of Americans believed scientists on the causes of climate change, and under one fifth trusted scientists in general “a great deal.” More than half selected the second-highest option, saying they trusted scientists “a fair amount.” When we allow one video of one bear to take the place of analyzed findings, we trade a fickle public’s attention for the more valuable asset of public trust. In August 2018 National Geographic published an acknowledgment that they “went too far” in reducing the bear’s condition to the effects of climate change.

    We estimate that an astonishing 2.5 billion people were reached by our footage. The mission was a success, but there was a problem: We had lost control of the narrative. The first line of the National Geographic video said, “This is what climate change looks like”—with “climate change” highlighted in the brand’s distinctive yellow. ~ SeaLegacy photographer Cristina G. Mittermeier, in the 2018 issue of National Geographic Magazine

    Today’s scientists must all be good media producers. We need to understand the climate not only of the Earth we live on, but of the world that receives, spreads, and memes that media. We need to transcend tribalism and understand how our messages spread, to those who trust us and those who do not. Most importantly, we need to apply the same rigor to our media production that we apply to our studies. Seeing a starving polar bear on snowless terrain did make some social media users sweat over their own energy use. But it also burned a little more public trust in scientific research and institutions.

    Core Concepts and Questions

    Core Concepts


    a (digital) culture built around certain concepts, which could include products

    cultural branding

    a branding strategy that tries to exploit existing crowdcultures and/or build new crowdcultures

    art world

    an inspired, collaborative competition among artists and content creators


    the ability for media to be spread to many people, who may then choose to use, modify, and/or spread it further


    something culturally significant – a concept or a form of media – that spreads from person to person, often being modified as it does so

    Core Questions

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    An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

    An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

    Related Content

    Read it: Pivot to coronavirus –How meme factories are crafting public health messaging

    (Crystal Abidin, Curtin University, for The Conversation)


    United Nations COVID-19 Response//unsplash Memes might seem like they emerge “naturally”, circulated by like-minded social media users and independently generating momentum. But successful memes often don’t happen by accident. (Image: United Nations COVID-19 Response,

    I’ve spent the past two years studying the history and culture of “meme factories”, especially in Singapore and Malaysia.

    Read more:
    Explainer: what are memes?

    Meme factories are a coordinated network of creators or accounts who produce and host memes.

    They can take the form of a single creator managing a network of accounts and platforms, or creators who collaborate informally in hobby groups, or groups working as a commercial business.

    These factories will use strategic calculations to “go viral”, and at times seek to maximise commercial potential for sponsors.

    Through this, they can have a huge influence in shaping social media. And – using the language of internet visual pop culture – meme factories can shift public opinion.

    When meme factories were born

    The first mention of meme factories seems to have been a slide in a 2010 TED talk by Christopher Poole, the founder of the controversial uncensored internet forum 4chan.

    4chan, said Poole, was “completely raw, completely unfiltered”. He introduced his audience to the new internet phenomenon of “memes” coming out of the forum, including LOLcats and Rickrolling – the largest memes to have emerged in the 2000s.

    LOLcat meme reading: Im in ur foldur keruptin yr fylez
    ‘LOLcats’ were one of the meme forms of the 2000s. (Image: Clancy, lolcat,, Ratliff/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA)

    Today, corporate meme factories systematically churn out posts to hundreds of millions of followers.

    They commissioned artists to “live-GIF” the 2012 US Presidential Election debates in an assembly line of soft political content. They congregated on a closed Facebook group to decide who could “take credit” for a school shooting. They created sponsored political posts for Michael Bloomberg’s Presidential campaign.

    On reddit’s gaming communities, activating a meme factory (sincerely or in jest) requires willing members to react with coordinated (and at times, inauthentic) action by flooding social media threads.

    Amid K-pop fandoms on Twitter, meanwhile, K-pop idols who are prone to making awkward or funny expressions are also affectionately called meme factories, with their faces used as reaction images.

    Three types of factories

    In my research, I studied how memes can be weaponised to disseminate political and public service messages.

    I have identified three types of factories:

    Meme factories can be single curators or collaborative groups.(Image: Meme factory cultures and content pivoting in Singapore and Malaysia during COVID-19, Crystal Abidin, https://misinforeview.hks.harvard.ed...ring-covid-19/)

    Commercial meme factories are digital and news media companies whose core business is to incorporate advertising into original content.

    For instance SGAG, owned by Singaporean parent company HEPMIL Media Group, has commissioned memes for various business partners, including promotions of radio stations, groceries and COVID-19 recovery initiatives.

    Hobbyish niche meme factories, in contrast, are social media accounts curating content produced by a single person or small group of admins, based on specific vernaculars and aesthetics to interest their target group.

    One example is the illustration collective highnunchicken, which creates original comics that are a critical — and at times cynical — commentary about social life in Singapore.

    STcomments, meanwhile, collates screengrabs of “ridiculous” comments from the Facebook page of The Straits Times, calling out inane humour, racism, xenophobia and classism, and providing space for Singaporeans to push back against these sentiments.

    The third type of meme factory is meme generator and aggregator chat groups – networks of volunteer members who collate, brainstorm and seed meme contents across platforms.

    One of these is Memes n Dreams, where members use a Telegram chat group to share interesting memes, post their original memes, and brainstorm over “meme challenges” that call upon the group to create content to promote a specific message.

    Factories during coronavirus

    Meme factories work quickly to respond to the world around them, so it is no surprise in 2020 they have pivoted to providing relief or promoting public health messages around COVID-19.

    Some factories launched new initiatives to harness their large follower base to promote and sustain small local businesses; others took to intentionally politicising their memes to challenge censorship laws in Singapore and Malaysia.

    Factories turned memes into public service announcements to educate viewers on topics including hand hygiene and navigating misinformation.

    They also focused on providing viewers with entertainment to lighten the mood during self-isolation.

    Memes are highly contextual, and often require insider knowledge to decode.

    Many memes that have gone viral during COVID-19 started out as satire and were shared by Millenials on Instagram or Facebook. As they spread, they evolved into misinformed folklore and misinformation, shared on WhatsApp by older generations who didn’t understand their satirical roots.

    An early Facebook meme about how rubbing chilli fruits over your hands prevent COVID-19 (because the sting from the spice would burn and you would stop touching your face) very quickly evolved into a WhatsApp hoax saying the heat from chilli powder would kill COVID-19 viruses.

    A meme that was shared among Instagram Millennials became distorted and shared on WhatsApp among Boomers.
    Crystal Abidin, Author provided

    Memes can be orchestrated by savvy meme factories who operate behind the scenes; or by ordinary people engaging in democratic citizen feedback. Beyond the joy, laughs (and misinformation), memes are a crucial medium of public communication and persuasion.The Conversation

    Crystal Abidin, Senior Research Fellow & ARC DECRA, Internet Studies, Curtin University, Curtin University

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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    This page titled 1.7: Memes is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Diana Daly.

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