Understanding Social Memes as a form of communication

Memes are funny graphics that involve a photo and a caption. They are extremely popular on Facebook and Instagram with many accounts such as @LadBible and @Tampons making thousands of pounds a month from sharing them. Memes often contain funny metaphors, irony and jokes that are relevant based on news and popular culture. They have skyrocketed in popularity and there are many websites that allow non-technical people to create them.

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Social memes are like jokes but in the digital world. They use images which makes them engaging and easier to understand (in most cases). Often that same image is used for hundreds of different jokes and becomes known around the world. Their widespread use makes them an interesting issue as they are a form of graphic communication, not as modular and flexible as a visual language, but they have deep associations and strong recognition making them iconic in many ways. 

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Although memes can be culturally specific, they are shared across the internet meaning they are seen in almost every country by billions of people. This makes them a form of universal comedy that is easy to access as the whole joke is represented in a square image. Over the years the designs of memes have changed. Originally they were photos with large black text in a Sans Serif all caps font overlaying the top and bottom of the image. Today memes look more like tweets. They are simply sentences set above the funny image. They look clean and are easy to read. As memes are jokes or funny statements they have often been used in place of language. Celebrities have shared memes that make the same point they want to make, only their meme makes it in a more fun way creating more engagement. The Memes culture has grown to meme appreciation clubs and there are some iconic memes that a large percentage of Facebook and Instagram users will have been exposed to.

The combination of an image and piece of text means they have the opportunity to be more intellectual than a joke as the viewer has to work out why it is funny. This can and has backfired in the past when people share memes that aren’t funny or easy to interpret, leaving viewers confused. Just like written languages, there is a format to them that has to be respected so that people understand how to read and interpret them. They are the mix between a verbal joke and seeing the funny event happen in front of you. There is a visual aspect which makes them recognisable and the image can convey a lot of emotion and content to the funny statement.

Mumedi, ContextAdam Marsh