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The History of Meme Culture in the 2010s

Memes have been a core component of internet culture for decades now, but they have also changed quite a bit since they first started getting used. The sources for memes have also changed somewhat, such as in the case of Tumblr falling from grace and being replaced by TikTok and Twitter with all things having been considered and taken into account. KnowYourMeme, a hub for all meme related information, recently tried to shed some light on this brand new method for communicating with one another.

One thing that this research attempted to demystify was the origin of memes, and with all of that having been said and now out of the way it is important to note that they mostly started out in the year 2010. That is the year when major social media platforms started to enter the fray and give memes their viral ability to cross boundaries and borders with all things having been considered and taken into account.

Back in 2010, just under 35% of memes or 34.9% to be precise came from YouTube. A further 28.2% came from the messaging board and forum hub 4Chan. These two platforms represent the majority of memes from that time period, but in spite of the fact that this is the case they both saw their shares declining. In 2011, both YouTube and 4Chan saw their meme output decrease as other platforms like Reddit and Tumblr began to see a rise in usage, and Facebook also became a more important source of memes as well.

Many of the memes during the early 2010s were simple rage comics or reaction memes that used comical pictures with some kind of text superimposed onto them. For example, 2011 was the year when the Scumbag Steve meme started to take root. This meme poked fun at an ostensibly unsavory character who was responsible for all manner of questionable and suspicious activities.

By 2013, Tumblr had supplanted YouTube as the biggest hub for memes with 22.7% of the memes from that year originating on this social media platform. Interestingly, Tumblr’s rapid rise was followed by an equally sudden decline by 2014, which is when Twitter took the top spot and Tumblr slipped into third place.

This was also the year when Vine entered the scene, and while this short form app did not get all that much time in the spotlight it had an enormous impact on meme culture in the brief period in which it was active. Indeed, many industry leaders cite Vine as the originator of the short form video craze which is now currently being dominated by TikTok.

Fast forwarding to 2022, TikTok is dominating the meme landscape with a massive 45.7% share. That is the highest degree of meme dominance that any social media platform has attained so far, and Twitter comes in with a healthy 30.1% to take second place. Interestingly, former meme powerhouse Tumblr is nowhere to be seen, and YouTube and 4Chan have seen their meme output drop to just 8.6% and 2.2% respectively.

Internet meme culture is undergoing a massive paradigm shift, and it will be interesting to see how things continue to change. TikTok’s influence will be seen for a really long time.


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