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.