There was a delightful conversation between Eugene Wei and Kevin Kwok recently where Eugene defined a meme as content with built-in distribution. Here's the 1min clip:
I love this definition, though I would replace "meme" with "viral" (and leave meme to be the more general replicator in the Dawkins' sense).
We can think of memes as viruses that travel among a population of human minds. These meme viruses are acquired by their host (the mind), retained, and eventually transmitted.
A Viral is a type of meme that is optimized for acquisition and transmission.
Virals are really good at spreading in a population, but don't stay around for long. As Eugene and Kevin note in the video, Virals rise and fall in days now, while in the early internet they'd be around for weeks.
What are examples of Virals? A #Challenge is the classic example, with the #IceBucketChallenge being one of the first.
Challenge Virals inspire their hosts to transmit by challenging someone else to complete the same task. The list of internet phenomena Wiki page has a whole section dedicated to challenges.
There are other ways to optimize for transmission like triggering outrage, and other ways to optimize for acquisition like crafting clickbait with an information gap.
Also, as Kevin and Eugene note, TikTok is a remix-first platform, which helps these memes propagate. Memes like to be remixed with related memes (see _____LivesMatter).
Note that Virals do not optimize for retention. The other memetic replicators like myths, knowledge, and values do optimize for retention. We'll explore them in a future post.