What Are Internet Memes and Where Did They Come From?

An Intro Internet Memes for Those Wondering Why They Exist

Success Kid Meme
Photo from KnowYourMeme.com

Internet memes are everywhere on the web these days and they’ve only grown stronger over the past decades or so since social media has grown to become such a mainstream phenomenon. But have you ever wondered where internet memes even come from?

For anyone who might be new to social media, image sharing, and overall Internet culture, Internet memes can be confusing and even downright ridiculous to try and understand.

While it's often just best to enjoy them for what they are and the humorous messages behind them without trying to analyze how in the world they became so popular, it's still worth understanding the basic nature of memes.

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 any idea or concept expressed in some form of content on the web, which is why it can be so completely difficult to drill down to a real definition. It can be a photo, a video, a person, an animal, a fictional character, an event, a song, a belief, an action, a GIF, a symbol, a word or anything else.

When one of these things is broad enough to be considered extremely relatable between most people and has a humorous effect to it (like sarcasm or exaggeration), it often gets shared all over the Internet. Mass sharing gives it its internet meme status.

Advice Animals are a common meme theme, which are images of animals that express reactions via short text captions. The weird horse dance performed in Psy’s Gangnam Style music video that went viral back in 2012 is even considered an Internet meme.

When something appeals to a very large number 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 notable examples of internet memes:

Where Do Internet Memes Come From?

Every Internet meme has its own unique story. The best ones 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 within days of initial recognition by its first hundred of thousands of sharers.

There’s one particular website, however, that is highly recommended to check 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.

You can use the search bar on Know Your Meme 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 which memes are starting to trend as soon as they do, you better be active 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, you're probably better off with going where many of the best memes are born:

4chan: There’s been a lot of criticism that the users of 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. Perhaps unlike 4chan, the Reddit community is very pleasant to interact with and helpful when necessary. A pretty big chunk of internet users prefers 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 to take over Tumblr almost immediately after they’re discovered.

As an added bonus, you may also want to start taking YouTube more seriously by subscribing to popular channels — especially those that cover newsworthy topics related to internet entertainment. Here are a few channel suggestions to check out.