Know Your Meme and the Homogenization of Internet History<!-- --> | <!-- -->Ben Pettis
Ben Pettis

Know Your Meme and the Homogenization of Internet History

August 19, 2021

A screenshot of the Know Your Meme website entry for the Pepe the Frog meme

As memes circulate and spread throughout different Web communities, their meanings are continually changing. In the last decade, the website Know Your Meme (KYM) has become popular among researchers, educators, and day-to-day Web users to understand memes and their meanings. KYM is a frequently cited resource among Web researchers, and as a result it has become instrumental in establishing dominant histories of memes on the Web. Though KYM remains an invaluable resource, it is often cited with minimal context, and an uncritical reliance on KYM’s definitions may overlook the polysemy of many memes. Accordingly, this paper uses a discursive interface analysis of the KYM website along with examples of incomplete meme definitions to demonstrate how the website constructs itself as a cultural authority to define and classify memes. Given that memes themselves are artifacts of Web history, I argue the overreliance on KYM as an authority on memes and their history can contribute to the homogenization of Web histories. However, this paper acknowledges that KYM can still be a useful resource and to that end, offers recommendations for how researchers might better introduce and contextualize KYM within their own work.

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