Internet memes go viral, spark controversy at University of Minnesota


The first University of Minnesota meme on Facebook was posted at 10:52 a.m. Tuesday.

More than 24 hours and 5,000 Facebook “likes” later, the University of Minnesota Memes page has dominated students’ news feeds.

The page was created in response to the University of Wisconsin-Madison meme page. Other campuses, like the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, the University of North Dakota, and the University of Minnesota-Duluth campus soon followed.

The original creator of the page remains largely unknown, but University student Colter Heirigs transferred the page to Twitter.

Heirigs also plans to run a website specifically for University memes to organize them by subject and original meme reference.

“At least a tenth of the University student population have at least seen one of these memes,” Heirigs said.

University senior Ross Gebelein  was among the thousands of students who discovered the page and created memes last night.

Many of Gebelein’s memes have received nearly 100 “likes” and “shares” on Facebook.

“Everybody can relate to it personally,” Gebelein said about the popularity of the page among University students.

What’s a meme?

The word “meme” was coined by biologist Richard Dawkins in 1976 to describe a practice or belief that spreads through a culture. Recently, the word has been used to refer to distinctive combinations of image and text that are spread through the Internet with modifications, generally comical or whimsical. Many memes—including many described in this article—are created at the site – Jay Gabler, TC Daily Planet

School of Journalism and Mass Communication assistant professor Seth Lewis said social media sites like Facebook have allowed people to create, alter and share messages like memes faster each year.

“Internet memes have been around ever since we’ve had the Internet. It’s just that social media has changed the speed and the reach and the process to which people can participate in them,” Lewis said.

A lot of students might not always voice their issues, concerns or ideas for situations that happen around campus, but memes are a way for these ideas to be displayed, Lewis said.

“It’s like one big inside joke,” he said.

Lewis added that the expansion of memes also shows how students are becoming more comfortable creating media that reflects their personal identities and opinions.

University student Alex Elert, another meme creator, said some memes on the site with racial and cultural implications have offended students. One referred to Riverside Plaza as the “crack stacks” and referenced the number of Asian students on campus.

Heirigs said memes with “particularly bothersome” content will not be transferred to the Twitter account and the website.

Although the site’s popularity is undeniable, Heirigs said the hype will likely die down in the coming weeks.

“I think right now it’s an opportunity for students to be really connected.”