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Internet Memes 101: What They Are, Where They Come From & Where to Look for Them

An Introduction to Understanding Internet Memes

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Internet Memes 101: What They Are, Where They Come From & Where to Look for Them
Photo from KnowYourMeme.com

Internet Memes. They’re everywhere on the web these days, and they’ve only grown stronger over the past few years since we starting seeing them pop up around the mid-2000s.

For anyone who might be new to social media, image sharing and overall Internet culture, Internet memes can be a confusing thing to understand. So here’s a quick breakdown of what an Internet meme really is, where they come from, and where you can find them.

What Is an Internet Meme?

An Internet meme can be almost anything—which is why it can be difficult to define. It can be a photo, a video, a person, an animal, a fictional character, a quote, an idea, a GIF, a symbol, a word or anything else.

When one of these things is extremely relatable between people and is shared all over the Internet, it’s usually called an Internet meme.

Advice Animals are a common meme theme, and the weird horse dance performed in Psy’s Gangnam Style music video that went viral is even considered an Internet meme. When an idea appeals to a very large amount of people and spreads very fast across the Internet—sometimes even being altered through additional photos, videos, phrases or whatever--it’s usually safe to say that that thing or idea is indeed an Internet meme.

To put it in the simplest of words, you can consider an Internet Meme to just be something that goes insanely viral. Check out some of these example of Internet memes:

Where Do Internet Memes Even Come From?

Every Internet meme has its own unique story. They can literally burst out of nowhere, only to mysteriously show up and take over your Twitter feed, Facebook feed, Tumblr Dashboard or any other social networking site you may be using.

There’s one website, however, that I recommend checking out if you’re interested in finding out the origin and history behind a particular meme. Part of the Cheezburger Network, Know Your Meme specializes in tracking down Internet memes and the entire viral stories behind them—sometimes right down to the creator, artist or photographer of a meme image.

You can use the searchbar on KnowYourMeme.com to search for any particular meme of your choice. A complete page of information, related memes, viral spread and even a timeline for search interest will be displayed.

For example, here’s Know Your Meme’s page for the Gangnam Style meme. It’s a pretty lengthy page, but it does a very good job at telling the entire story behind its virality.

Since new memes pop up every day out of nowhere, you may notice that not every meme’s page on the site is fully complete. In fact, it may not even by on the site yet.

Where Can I Find Internet Memes?

If you want to know what memes are starting to trend, you better be on social media. You’re not going to find them by checking your email or reading your local news website.

Being on Facebook and Twitter is a good start, but they can be a little slow at exposing the newest Internet memes. Instead, I recommend going where many memes are born:

4chan: There’s been a lot of criticism that the users on 4chan are rather unpleasant to interact with, but if you want Internet memes, this image-based community is where many of them are created.

Reddit: Like 4chan, Reddit is another social network that represents the birthplace of many memes. I’d say that a pretty big chunk of Internet users prefer visiting Reddit rather than 4chan.

Tumblr: A lot of stuff that first shows up on 4chan and Reddit eventually make their way to Tumblr—a blogging platform that tends to be heavy on imagery and GIFs. It’s the perfect environment for memes, and even though most memes may be seen on Reddit first, they tend take over Tumblr almost immediately after they’re discovered.   

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