Birth of an Internet Meme


We surf the internet at different times, from different locations, but are instantly united by one common factor: the internet meme.

For the uninitiated, the internet meme is a cultural concept, which may be an image or video, that is rapidly shared throughout the internet. Wether you were aware of its definition or not, you’ve probably already experienced an internet meme without even knowing it: the meme may have already made its way through your Facebook friend’s status updates.

The meme reaches us, internet users, across a variety of networks: it may begin in one place, and carry over onto a different network. A meme that begins as a joke on Reddit may end up on your Facebook newsfeed.

Memes are born, not made. earlier this year, the image of a “ridiculously photogenic” runner became a meme that made it’s way throughout the web and ultimately landed its subject an interview on Good Morning America. Neither the ridiculously photogenic guy, whose actual name is Zeddie Little, nor his photographer ever imagined the runaway popularity of their image:

The internet meme leads to the inevitable comparison of going viral: the ultimate goldmine of internet popularity, which is why the internet meme is worthy of close examination. No memes are created equal, yet their similarities are striking.  Take the bold text framing the upper and lower sections of the image.  The top caption commonly describes a situation, while the bottom part becomes the punchline, by sharing the end result.

What Makes an Internet Meme – The Emotional Foundation

Research shows internet users prefer sharing emotions over facts.  This is a topic often revisited by Facebook’s Global Head of Brand Design, Paul Adams, who states, “We share feelings, not facts.” The humorous factor of internet memes plays a key role in growing the meme’s chances of being shared. Once the humor is established, users want to join in the conversation and create their own versions of an internet meme.

Communities of Participation

YouTube’s trends manager Kevin Alloca delivered a a TED talk in which he listed 5 factors that fuel an internet meme.  One of these factors is the communities of participation, whereco-creation drives the popularity of an internet meme. In Zeddie’s case, internet users jumped on board to create their own versions of captions that they could share with their friends.  When describing the popularity of Nyan Cat, my personal favorite internet meme, Mr. Alloca explains,

“An entire remix community sprouted up that brought (Nyan Cat) from being just a stupid joke, to something that we can all actually be a part of, because we don’t just enjoy now, we participate.”

Memes oftentimes share situations that are widely relatable. Take the popularity of rage comics, which explain situations we often times encounter in our daily lives. We see these memes as reflections of ourselves: art essentially imitating life.


Popular internet users play a key role in spreading content across the web. These popular figures contain large audiences who are interested in the meme being shared, who then share than content with their networks. It is easy to assume that one large influencer can be responsible for proliferating one piece of content.  The focus, however, must be placed on the influencer’s audience, who must all share interest in that piece of content being shared.

An emotional foundation, community of participation, and group of connectors: these are key ingredients that give birth to an internet meme. The social web has given us all the power to share and decide who or what becomes popular; an impressive uniting factor that helps us all enjoy the web together, regardless of time and location.