Social Media in 2012: Facebook’s Top Memes of the Year

by Jordan Richardson on December 17, 2012

First of all, it has been an extraordinarily tough weekend for so many. I would like to use at least some of this space to offer condolences and thoughts to those whose hearts are heavy with hurt after what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Most things seem trivial when events like this rock us to our very foundations, yet life goes on somehow and the world keeps turning.

And that means that people using social media keep finding ways to reach out and connect, an encouraging thought at times and a not-so-encouraging thought at others. Facebook has released details on the top memes of 2012, pulling back the curtain on all the images, phrases and trends that its users have been throwing around all year. There are some predictable entries, of course, and a few surprises.

If you’re not sure what a meme is, allow this explanation to satisfy your curiosity: “an idea, behaviour, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture.” The term itself is said to come from the Greek word mimemewhich basically translates to “something imitated.” In effect, it’s a bit of an umbrella term for vehicles that spread ideas and principles throughout a society.

In terms of Facebook, a meme could be one of those quote-picture we’re all so used to seeing. Or it could be an acronym, like SMH (shake my head) or LOL (laugh out loud). These memes become useful in terms of looking at the social barometers of our time; just what are people talking about and how are they spreading what they’re talking about so that it becomes part of a larger cultural phenomenon.

Facebook’s list of the top 10 memes of 2012 breaks down as follows:

10. Linsanity
9. Big Bird
8. SMH (shake or shaking my head)
7. Cray
6. Cinnamon Challenge
5. Gangnam Style
4. One-Word Comment
2. YOLO (you only live once)
1. TBH (to be honest)

Some of the memes are pretty self-explanatory and include things people using the Internet as a communication tool have simply evolved into their languages, like the top meme. Others hone in on cultural events, like the PSY song that comprises the fifth item on the list or the KONY 2012 movement that arrived to draw attention to Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony. YOLO has become a bit of a rallying cry by those people, mostly teenagers, looking to do something really, really stupid.

Linsanity is, of course, a term that references Jeremy Lin. And Big Bird refers to a popular meme that circulated on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites after US presidential candidate Mitt Romney somehow drew the Sesame Street icon into the debates.

And then there’s the Cinnamon Challenge. This is where the aforementioned discussion of what a meme is proves useful (I think). The Cinnamon Challenge is effectively an “idea,” to use the term really loosely, that involves participants swallowing a spoonful of ground cinnamon in under 60 seconds without anything to drink. The video of said incident must be uploaded to the Internet (generally YouTube). This is a challenge because cinnamon dries out the mouth really quickly and pretty much leaves participants gasping for air, which is apparently “hilarious.”

Not only are Facebook’s top 10 memes instructive when it comes to determining exactly what’s going on in our culture, but they’re useful when it comes to determining how we’re communicating with each other and how those communications are spreading in the social media construct. In 2011, the top meme was “Like My Status.” In 2013, the sky – and the cinnamon – is the limit.

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Written by: Jordan Richardson. Follow by: RSSTwitterFacebook, or YouTube.

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