These are the most popular memes, according to science

Mimi Launder
Wednesday 06 June 2018 14:15
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Finally, science is up to something worthwhile, after fooling around for decades with medicine, renewable energy and space.

Academia turned its weighty gaze to memes in a recent, 20-page study looking at millions of them, posted between July 2016 and July 2017, on Twitter, Reddit, 4chan's Politically Incorrect communit /pol/, and Gab.

What did it find? Basically, quarters of the internet are fit-to-burst with homophobes, racists and sexists who get a giggle out of pretty much anything hateful, including genocide. Cheery stuff.

Tending to prefer lighthearted 'fun' or 'neutral' memes, Reddit and Twitter are safer to roam freely than /pol/ or Gab. The most popular on those sites were ManningFace, a photo of Peyton Manning looking disgruntled in a balaclava, and the insightful Roll Safe guy.

On the other side of the spectrum, the most popular meme on /pol/ - a community plagued with bigotry - was Sad Frog, a variation of the Pepe meme that has transformed over the years from an amphibian carton to an alt-right symbol. In fact, more than 10 per cent of memes on /pol/ are Pepe-related. Likewise, Gab is overrun by trolls and alt-righters, avoiding platforms where they are in danger of 'censorship'.

Reddit, however, does have a community drowning in racism - r/TheDonald, dedicated to the current US president. While /pol/ is more racist that Reddit, r/TheDonald is the most efficient at spreading hate. The study concluded:

When measuring the influence each community has with respect to disseminating memes to other web communities, we found that /pol/ has the largest overall influence for racist and political memes, however, /pol/ was the least efficient, i.e., in terms of influence w.r.t. the total number of memes posted, while The Donald is very successful in pushing memes to both fringe and mainstream web communities.

Though the communities are different - by which we mean, contain different levels of hatred and anger - they are more similar than you might thing: many memes - particularly racist ones - begin life in the depths of /pol/ and find their way to the rest of the internet through r/The_Donald.

In fact, the study found that the two communities were the most "influential actors in the meme ecosystem, despite their modest size". Jeremy Blackburn, a computer scientist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and co-author of the study, told Quartz:

It seems to be that a lot of memes move from /pol/ to The_Donald. That’s a clear path of progression.

The most popular memes on Twitter

1 Roll Safe

2 Arthur’s Fist

3 Evil Kermit

4 Nut Button

5 Spongebob Mock

6 Reaction Images

7 Expanding Brain

8 Demotivational Posters

9 Cash Me Ousside/Howbow Dah

10 Conceited Reaction

​The most popular memes on Reddit

1 Manning Face

2 That’s the Joke

3 Feels Bad Man/ Sad Frog

4 Confession Bear

5 This is Fine

6 Smug Frog

7 Roll Safe

8 Rage Guy

9 Make America Great Again

10 Fake CCG Card

​The most popular memes on /pol/

1 Feels Bad Man/Sad Frog

2 Smug Frog

3 Happy Merchant

4 Apu Apustaja

5 Pepe the Frog

6 Make America Great Again

7 Angry Pepe

8 Bait this is Bait

9 I Know that Feel Bro

10 Cult of Kek

Unsurprisingly, given his divisive nature and the time of the study, another uniting force between communities was Donald Trump, the subject of more jokes than anyone else, whether mocking humour or fawning in r/The_Donald style.

However, the people taking the second place spot in each community perhaps says more about them: Barack Obama on Twitter, Steve Bannon on Reddit and Adolf HItler on /pol/.

The most common people in memes on Twitter

1. Donald Trump

2. Barack Obama

3. Chelsea Manning

4. Kim Jong Un

5. Anita Sarkeesian

6. Bernie Sanders

7. Vladimir Putin

8. Billy Mays

9. Adolf Hitler

10, Kanye West

11. Bill Nye

12. Mitt Romney

13. Filthy Frank

14. Hillary Clinton

15. Ajit Pai


The most common people in memes  on Reddit

1. Donald Trump 

2. Steve Bannon 

3. Stephen Colbert 

4. Chelsea Manning 

5. Ben Carson 

6. Bernie Sanders

7. Ajit Pai 

8. Barack Obama 

9. Gabe Newell 

10. Bill Nye

11. Hillary Clinton 

12. Death Grips 

13. Adolf Hitler

14. Mitt Romney

15. Eminem 


The most common people in posts on /pol/

1. Donald Trump

2. Adolf Hitler

3. Mike Pence

4. Jeb Bush 

5. Vladimir Putin 

6. Alex Jones 

7. Ron Paul 

8. Bernie Sanders 

9. Massimo

10. Mitt Romney 

11. Chelsea Manning 

12. Hillary Clinton 

13. A. Wyatt Mann

14. Ben Carson 

15. Filthy Frank 


All this points to a scary reality - that memes shape and change responses to major events. For example, racist memes spiked close to the Charlottesville incident in August 2017.

Savvas Zannettou, a PhD student at the Cyprus University of Technology, and the paper’s lead author, told Quartz

The whole thing with memes is very serious; they are used to weaponise information and to manipulate opinion.

It’s not something that should be taken lightly.

More: This 97-year-old cartoon might be the first ever meme

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