A meme is a cultural element with a humorous purpose declined and taken up en masse on the Web, a reference to which everyone can identify and that everyone can monopolize. If behind each meme hides a creator, his work does not belong to him since his popularity lies in its virality and its impact on the Internet. Thus, a meme can be a photo, a video, a music, a television extract, etc. In short, everything that is likely to be shared and relayed virally. If it is difficult to define with certainty which is the best known meme, the one that can be considered the original meme, and which best represents the impact and virality of the Web, is the famous song by Rick Astley : Never Gonna Give You Up
A true pillar of internet culture, the meme has become essential. And each cultural object has its own museum. Knowyourmeme.com has been listing and classifying each meme since 2010, giving them a name and tracing their history for some. By building its database, the site was able to identify the platforms behind the various viral memes. It is thus between 700 and 1400 memes per year that have been analyzed in order to better understand the evolution and history of the meme on the Internet. A virtual world in perpetual transformation: “The internet you connected to in 2012 or even 2019 is not the same as the one you are browsing right now“, as indicated the article.
In 2010, the Internet has been accessible to the general public for 20 years already, but the diversity of content and platforms it offers is not yet at its peak. So it’s no surprise that the biggest meme generator of 2010 is also one of the oldest sites in existence: YouTube. Created in 2005, the online video platform offers a small revolution by allowing anyone to post the video they want. This period also marks the golden age of forums, these exchange and sharing sites, ancestors of social networks. That’s why behind YouTube are sites like 4chan, Tumblr or Reddit, still very popular today. But the situation tends to change from 2015, diversity starting to win the world of memes.
The Internet offers a gigantic catalog of platforms and is beginning to bring together more and more people. If in 2010, according to Statista, there were just under 2 billion Internet users, five years later, there are 1 billion more. YouTube must then cede its throne as meme leader to Twitter, a booming social network close to the spirit of forums through its virality and moderation. If five years ago, only two sites provided more than half of the memes, in 2015, the shares of the cake are much better distributed, since 80% of the memes come from six different sites. A plurality that will eventually disappear.
In 2019, Twitter asserts its domination over the world of memes, since with 40%, a significant part of the humorous content of the Internet comes from the blue bird social network. An exponential growth that has left very little room for its competitors. Reddit, for its part, stands out as the second most influential platform, and despite a number of French users in sharp decline compared to traditional social networks, the American platform can count on an extremely loyal and active niche audience.
But just behind, in ambush, is a competitor that will, in just a few years, become a virtual juggernaut: TikTok. Resulting from the merger of Douyin and Musical.ly, the Chinese social network has exploded all the counters in the space of three years. With the change in formula brought by Bytedance, TikTok has the perfect recipe to combine culture and virality. The system of trends associated with a powerful algorithm has enabled the social network to become the first creator of memes in 2022.
Knowyourmeme’s various graphs show that the Internet is constantly changing. In a world where around three out of five people have internet access, the virality of content is in full swing. It is therefore not surprising to see each year take turns on the throne one or the other of the most used platforms in the world. But beyond this system of popularity and sharing is the principle of creativity. While YouTube remains the most popular online video platform, its tumble as a meme matrix can be explained by its tougher moderation policy. Memes are therefore indicative of the popularity of platforms, but also of the freedom of expression and creation that they allow.