An Internet meme, commonly known as just a meme (// MEEM), is an activity, concept, catchphrase, or piece of media that spreads, often as mimicry or for humorous purposes, from person to person via the Internet. An Internet meme usually takes the form of an image (traditionally an image macro), GIF or video. It may be just a word or phrase, sometimes including intentional misspellings (such as in lolcats) or corrupted grammar (such as in doge and all your base are belong to us). 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. Fads and sensations tend to grow rapidly on the Internet because the instant communication facilitates word-of-mouth transmission. Some examples include posting a photo of people lying down in public places (called "planking") and uploading a short video of people dancing to the Harlem Shake.
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. In 2013, Dawkins characterized an Internet meme as being a meme deliberately altered by human creativity—distinguished from biological genes and his own pre-Internet concept of a meme, which involved mutation by random change and spreading through accurate replication as in Darwinian selection. Dawkins explained that Internet memes are thus a "hijacking of the original idea", the very idea of a meme having mutated and evolved in this new direction. Further, Internet memes carry an additional property that ordinary memes do not—Internet memes leave a footprint in the media through which they propagate (for example, social networks) that renders them traceable and analyzable.
In the early days of the Internet, such content was primarily spread via email or Usenet discussion communities. Messageboards and newsgroups were also popular because they allowed a simple method for people to share information or memes with a diverse population of internet users in a short period. They encourage communication between people, and thus between meme sets, that do not normally come in contact. Furthermore, they actively promote meme-sharing within the messageboard or newsgroup population by asking for feedback, comments, opinions, etc. This format is what gave rise to early internet memes, like the Hampster Dance. Another factor in the increased meme transmission observed over the internet is its interactive nature. Print matter, radio, and television are all essentially passive experiences requiring the reader, listener, or viewer to perform all necessary cognitive processing; in contrast, the social nature of the Internet allows phenomena to propagate more readily. Many phenomena are also spread via web search engines, internet forums, social networking services, social news sites, and video hosting services. Much of the Internet's ability to spread information is assisted from results found through search engines, which can allow users to find memes even with obscure information.
Evolution and propagation
Internet memes originally started in the mid-1990s. At the time, memes were just short clips that were shared between people in Usenet forums. As the internet evolved, so did memes. When YouTube was released in 2005, video memes became popular. Around this time, rickrolling became popular and the link to this video was sent around via email or other messaging sites. Video sharing also created memes such as "Turn Down For What" and the "Harlem Shake". As social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook started appearing, it was now easy to share GIFs and image macros to a large audience. Meme generator websites were created to let users create their own memes out of existing templates. Memes during this time could remain popular for a long time, from a few months to a decade, which contrasts with the fast lifespan of modern memes.
An Internet meme may stay the same or may evolve over time, by chance or through commentary, imitations, parody, or by incorporating news accounts about itself. Internet memes can evolve and spread extremely rapidly, sometimes reaching worldwide popularity within a few days. Internet memes usually are formed from some social interaction, pop culture reference, or situations people often find themselves in. Their rapid growth and impact has caught the attention of both researchers and industry. Academically, researchers model how they evolve and predict which memes will survive and spread throughout the Web. Commercially, they are used in viral marketing where they are an inexpensive form of mass advertising.
One empirical approach studied meme characteristics and behavior independently from the networks in which they propagated, and reached a set of conclusions concerning successful meme propagation. For example, the study asserted that Internet memes not only compete for viewer attention generally resulting in a shorter life, but also, through user creativity, memes can collaborate with each other and achieve greater survival. Also, paradoxically, an individual meme that experiences a popularity peak significantly higher than its average popularity is not generally expected to survive unless it is unique, whereas a meme with no such popularity peak keeps being used together with other memes and thus has greater survivability.
Multiple opposing studies on media psychology and communication have aimed to characterise and analyse the concept and representations in order to make it accessible for the academic research. Thus, Internet memes can be regarded as a unit of information which replicates via internet. This unit can replicate or mutate. This mutation instead of being generational follows more a viral pattern, giving the Internet memes generally a short life. Other theoretical problems with the Internet memes are their behaviour, their type of change, and their teleology.
Writing for The Washington Post in 2013, Dominic Basulto asserted that with the growth of the Internet and the practices of the marketing and advertising industries, memes have come to transmit fewer snippets of human culture that could survive for centuries as originally envisioned by Dawkins, and instead transmit banality at the expense of big ideas.
Dank memes are a subgenre of memes usually involving meme formats but in a different way to image macros. The term "dank", which means "a cold, damp place", was later adapted by marijuana smokers to refer to high-quality marijuana, and then became an ironic term for a type of meme, and also becoming synonymous for "cool". This term originally meant a meme that was significantly different from the norm, but is now used mainly to differentiate these modern types of memes from other, older types such as image macros. Dank memes can also refer to "exceptionally unique or odd" memes. They have been described as "internet in-jokes" that are "so played out that they become funny again" or are "so nonsensical that they are hilarious". The formats are usually from popular television shows, movies, or video games (such as SpongeBob and The Simpsons) and users then add humorous text and images over it.
One example of a "dank" meme is the "Who Killed Hannibal", which is made of two frames from a 2013 episode of The Eric Andre Show. The meme features the host Andre shooting his co-host Buress in the first frame and then blaming someone else in the second. This was then adapted to other situations, such as baby boomers blaming millennials for problems that they allegedly caused.
Sometimes these types of memes can stem from nonsense or otherwise unrelated phrases that are then repeated and placed onto other formats. One example of this is "they did surgery on a grape", which derived from a video of a da Vinci Surgical System performing test surgery on a grape. When people began to share this post, they tended to add the same caption to it ("they did surgery on a grape"), and this eventually turned into a satirical image with many layers of captions on it which then evolved into a meme when people started to place this phrase onto other meme templates.
Dank memes can also stem from interesting real-life images that get shared or remixed many times. So-called "moth" memes (often stylized with diacritics on the "o": "möth") came about after a Reddit user posted a close up picture of a moth that they had found outside their window onto a subreddit called r/creepy. This image of a moth became popular, and began to be used in memes. These moth memes usually revolved around the moth wanting to find a lamp. According to Chris Grinter, a lepidopterist from the California Academy of Sciences, these memes took off because people find moths' attraction to lamps quite strange and this phenomenon is still not completely explained by science.
Matt Furie's cartoon character Pepe the Frog became an Internet meme when its popularity steadily grew across Myspace, Gaia Online and 4chan in 2008. By 2015, it had become one of the most popular memes used on 4chan and Tumblr. Different types of Pepe include "Sad Frog", "Smug Frog", and "Angry Pepe". Since 2014, "Rare Pepes" have been posted on the (sarcastic) "meme market" as if they were trading cards. During the 2016 United States presidential election, Pepe became associated with racism, the alt-right, and support for Donald Trump. Shortly following this, Pepe was designated as a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League, though not every Pepe meme is classified as one. 
After the success of the application Vine, a new format of memes was created in the form of short videos and scripted sketches. Vine, in spite of its closure in early 2017, has still retained success through uploads of viral vines onto other sharing social media sites such as Twitter and YouTube. Users on said websites will often upload Vine "compilations", sometimes relating to a theme assigned to the vines or just a collection of assorted vine videos.
A satirical subculture on the kind of talks and stocks found normally on Wall Street, on September of 2016 a form of currency involving memes was created. Originally started on Reddit as r/MemeEconomy, started as a place where people only would only jokingly "buy" or "sell" shares in a meme to indicate what the general populace's thought on a meme's popularity was. Later the project was expanded on by Brandon Wink and Ron Vaisman who created their own website, NASDANQ, to delve deeper into this virtual market. Assigning virtual currency to users of NASDANQ, they allow people to actually buy and sell shares of meme stock. It is currently not for profit and instead considered a social experiment to see how people assign value to common place and otherwise valueless things. 
Recently, NASDANQ was contacted by the stock exchange NASDAQ which requested the domain name https://nasdanq.com from the meme exchange's creators. In light of this, the project was renamed to DANQEX, which is short for "Danqexchange". The website has been changed to https://danqex.com as well. 
Public relations, advertising, and marketing professionals have embraced Internet memes as a form of viral marketing and guerrilla marketing to create marketing "buzz" for their product or service. The practice of using memes to market products or services is known as memetic marketing. Internet memes are seen as cost-effective, and because they are a (sometimes self-conscious) fad, they are therefore used as a way to create an image of awareness or trendiness. To this end, businesses have taken to attempting two methods of using memes to increase publicity and sales of their company; either creating a meme or attempting to adapt or perpetuate an existing one.
Marketers, for example, use Internet memes to create interest in films that would otherwise not generate positive publicity among critics. The 2006 film Snakes on a Plane generated much publicity via this method. Used in the context of public relations, the term would be more of an advertising buzzword than a proper Internet meme, although there is still an implication that the interest in the content is for purposes of trivia, ephemera, or frivolity rather than straightforward advertising and news.
Examples of memetic marketing include the FreeCreditReport.com singing ad campaign, the "Nope, Chuck Testa" meme from an advertisement for taxidermist Chuck Testa, Wilford Brimley saying "Diabeetus" from Liberty Medical and the Dumb Ways to Die public announcement ad campaign by Metro Trains Melbourne.
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We need a name for the new replicator, a noun that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation. 'Mimeme' comes from a suitable Greek root, but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like 'gene'. I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to meme. If it is any consolation, it could alternatively be thought of as being related to 'memory', or to the French word même. It should be pronounced to rhyme with 'cream'.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Internet memes.|
- Gary Marshall, The Internet and Memetics – academic article about Internet and memes.