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What is a Meme?

In other fields, the term meme refers to any idea, symbol, behavior, or practice that becomes widely spread among a large population. The term was coined by the British biologist Richard Dawkins 1. Dawkins used the term to emphasize how analogous genetic and cultural evolution are. 2 In the same way that genes replicate and spread, ideas replicate and spread from one mind to another.lolcat.jpgOn the Internet, memes are generally videos, songs, images, websites, Web personalities, or inside jokes that spread rapidly. Because the Internet allows for virtually unlimited diffusion of ideas, a meme can be accessed and passed along by millions and millions of Web users. Like genes, Internet memes can spread in their original form or can "mutate" into different shapes as users modify, parody, or otherwise edit a song or video clip before passing it on. Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter help spread these memes. YouTube has also helped countless videos go viral. Some experience fame by YouTube videos gaining popularity, such as Susan Boyle and Justin Bieber. Lolcats images are another example of Internet memes.

Transmission of Memes

Aaron Lynch described seven general patterns of meme transmission, or "thought contagion":[20]

  1. Quantity of parenthood: an idea that influences the number of children one has. Children respond particularly receptively to the ideas of their parents, and thus ideas that directly or indirectly encourage a higher birthrate will replicate themselves at a higher rate than those that discourage higher birthrates.
  2. Efficiency of parenthood: an idea that increases the proportion of children who will adopt ideas of their parents. Cultural separatism exemplifies one practice in which one can expect a higher rate of meme-replication—because the meme for separation creates a barrier from exposure to competing ideas.
  3. Proselytic: ideas generally passed to others beyond one's own children. Ideas that encourage the proselytism of a meme, as seen in many religious or political movements, can replicate memes horizontally through a given generation, spreading more rapidly than parent-to-child meme-transmissions do.
  4. Preservational: ideas that influence those that hold them to continue to hold them for a long time. Ideas that encourage longevity in their hosts, or leave their hosts particularly resistant to abandoning or replacing these ideas, enhance the preservability of memes and afford protection from the competition or proselytism of other memes.
  5. Adversative: ideas that influence those that hold them to attack or sabotage competing ideas and/or those that hold them. Adversative replication can give an advantage in meme transmission when the meme itself encourages aggression against other memes.
  6. Cognitive: ideas perceived as cogent by most in the population who encounter them. Cognitively transmitted memes depend heavily on a cluster of other ideas and cognitive traits already widely held in the population, and thus usually spread more passively than other forms of meme transmission. Memes spread in cognitive transmission do not count as self-replicating.
  7. Motivational: ideas that people adopt because they perceive some self-interest in adopting them. Strictly speaking, motivationally transmitted memes do not self-propagate, but this mode of transmission often occurs in association with memes self-replicated in the efficiency parental, proselytic and preservational modes.

Concerns for Parents

Many memes are harmless, funny viral videos. Simply being online will probably expose your kids to popular memes. However, memes can cover any topic including racism, sexual content, profanity, and illegal activities. Since many memes contain text in an image, certain content filters may not detect inappropriate content in memes. One way to prevent children from finding objectional memes is to check the website the memes are coming from.

How Can I Keep My Child Safe?

  • You can shield your kids from viewing or propagating inappropriate memes by having filtering software installed on your computer.
  • You should talk with your child when they say or share things that sound like or appear to be memes.  Make sure they know the dangers of sharing what might seem harmless.