A meme as most people understand is a funny picture with a caption that someone created online that many people understand easily and spread rapidly as a result. It is typically a short message or opinion that someone has which is shared by a majority of people; again, one of the reasons it spreads so quickly through the internet. The true definition of a meme is that of a cultural aspect which is passed from one individual to another by imitating the other. It is a form of behaviour or understanding that is not passed on through genetics. But that’s enough science for now.
Memes have become an extremely popular form of user generated content on the internet. Some of the reasons for this are because they are entertaining, are quick to create, easily shared, free to make and they convey meaningful messages to thousands of people. Anyone in the world with an internet connection and computer can download a picture, slap on a witty caption and upload it to the internet for thousands of others to see. Usually they are used for entertainment and are created in a humorous fashion. Memes are so popular that there are many websites that provide a constant stream of new user created memes. There are meme websites dedicated to a person’s language preferences as well – 9GAG is popular among English speakers whereas Haivl.com is more popular among speakers of Vietnamese.
Now since memes can be created in a timely manner and reach a mass audience extremely quickly they have also been useful in reporting news events. One of the greatest things about this is that news is suddenly getting to people that would not ordinarily be reading the news – young people who just want to see funny pictures on the internet. This can cause young people to have more of an interest in what is going on in the world or even in their own country – good or bad. In China people began buying salt after hearing of the Fukushima incident in Japan as they were told salt could fight the effects of radiation. People were getting curious why there were so many memes (pictures) of empty salt shelves, and started looking up what caused it which brought them to the news of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Memes have also been used not just to tell the news, but to make political statements. In China for example one of the most popular memes circulated throughout the internet was that of a collection of photos of a high-ranking Chinese official wearing extremely expensive watches and these watches were completely outside of the pay scale for such a public official. Internet users thought it was funny someone went to the trouble to find the photos and create the meme – and it was. What’s also funny is that the official wearing the expensive watches was later fired for “disciplinary violations” – a creator of a meme influenced the sacking of a high ranking Government official…WOW!
Memes can also be used to get around censorship blocks. Internet users in China created memes that depicted the Tiananmen square massacre on its anniversary (on this day the Government blocks many key words to do with the massacre). Users got around the censorship block by using pictures – memes – to convey their thoughts and remembrances of the day without being silenced. One way they did this was by replacing tanks from the original massacre with giant rubber ducks.
Memes are funny pictures, but they are more than just that. They can also spread the news, influence the sacking of Government officials and give users an opportunity to escape censorship – pretty powerful stuff.
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