13 Meme Statistics to Expand Your Brain

Updated · May 20, 2023

Top meme pages on social media boast dozens of millions of followers each.

Excluding the most famous celebrities and brands, it is memes that keep the internet running now.

We’ve prepared a good few meme statistics for you today. Some are meme-worthy, others might seem like they’re about a distant past, but read till the end, and you’ll be a proper authority on memes.

Enthymematic Meme Facts (Editor’s Choice)

  • Richard Dawkins coined the term “meme” in his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene.
  • But the word “meme” actually appeared in the New York Times Crossword way before that, in 1953.
  • Some consider the :-) smiley face, invented in 1982, to be the first meme.
  • 60% of all memes are political in nature.
  • “Meme” is a more popular search term than “Jesus”—doubly so!
  • Instagram users share over one million memes daily.
  • A woman committed suicide in 2016 when her sex tape leaked and became a meme.
  • The “Disaster Girl” meme sold for around $430,000 as an NFT.

The Evolution of Memes

Memes mutate.

They used to be a topic of discussion in the world of academia; now, they mainly exist to provide us with superficial entertainment.

But how did they make such a drastic leap?

You’re about to learn that—and more.

1. The Selfish Gene was the first book to include the word “meme.”

(Source: The New York Times)

The history of memes begins with a British evolutionary biologist named Richard Dawkins, a professor at Oxford University. His 1976 book, The Selfish Gene, introduced the term “meme” and described its essential characteristics.

As a biologist, Mr. Dawkins clearly couldn’t resist the urge to compare memes to genes: The latter is a unit of heredity, and he posited that the former is a unit of culture.

He also compared memes to a virus or a parasite that infects a person’s brain and spreads on. Considering much online activity today involves memes, he wasn’t far off the mark.

2. The word “meme” made its debut in the New York Times Crossword in 1953.

(Source: The New York Times)

One peculiar timeline of memes and all things meme-related is the New York Times Crossword. First launched in 1942, the puzzle game has been an inseparable part of the publication for eight decades.

The puzzle has had “meme” be an answer many, many times—60, to be exact.

Its first appearance was in 1953—way before Mr. Dawkins “invented” it—but, to be fair, it didn’t refer to the English word as we know it now. The clue was “Same: French,” and the answer was “même” (pronounced mehm).

Modern memes don’t have much to do with French, however—and neither do the NYT’s questions.

On December 24, 2021, “meme” made another appearance; this time, the corresponding clue read “something that gets passed around a lot.”

Now, that’s a proper meme, alright.

3. Some consider the smiley face emoticon to be the first meme.

(Source: Carnegie Mellon University)

It’s hard to say for sure which is the oldest meme. If we adopt Richard Dawkins’ definition of the word, then religion itself can be seen as one—and some religions are quite old.

Alternatively, we could limit ourselves to more recent times. In that case, emoticons are worthy candidates for the title.

In 1982, Scott E. Fahlman, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, “invented” the sideways smiley face :-).

(Yes, it originally had a nose.)

Fahlman proposed that the “smiley” be used as a marker to denote sarcasm and thus avoid misunderstandings on online bulletin boards. He also proposed the use of :-( to indicate “serious talk.”

While these emoticons obviously don’t follow the typical modern-day meme format, they do somewhat fit Mr. Dawkins’ theory of what constitutes a “meme.”

4. The Hampsterdance, which appeared in 1998, is another runner-up for the title of the original meme.

(Source: CBC)

If you’re not convinced that a simple emoticon should count as a meme, then you’ll like this one. In 1998, Deidre LaCarte (who was a Canadian student), a friend of hers, and her sister challenged themselves to each create a website and see which one attracted the largest amount of visitors.

Deidre created the Hampsterdance website on Geocities and gave birth to a new era on the internet. In about a month, she got one million clicks.

That doesn’t sound like much, does it?

Well, back then, it was.

While it’s true that trending memes today get hundreds of millions of likes and shares in a matter of days before dissipating into obscurity, the internet was a lot slower in the 90s—and not much of the population was on it. So, a whole million clicks in just a month was unprecedented.

Plus, the Hampsterdance was so popular that it persisted well into the early 2000s.

Fun fact: Multiple songs based on Hampsterdance were released between 2000 and 2008. For instance, “The Hampsterdance Song,” “Happy Times Ten,” “The Hampster Dance Party,” and “A Very Hampsterdance Christmas.”

Behind the Meme

We see memes as a means (pun intended) to have fun. Sharing a meme is more or less the modern-day equivalent of cracking a joke.

Alas, it’s not all fun and games—no, not even for memes.

Read on for the spiciest meme trivia you can find.

5. Memes can be powerful marketing instruments.

(Source: Forbes)

The best part is that memes don’t have to be just for fun. When used right, they can help you boost your CTR and engagement tenfold.

For instance, a company had about 5% organic engagement with traditional marketing online; memes bumped that up to 60%.

Don’t forget to keep your meme-adverts fun, though—that’s the secret to success.

6. A woman committed suicide after her sex tape leaked and became a meme.

(Source: Global News)

There are meme facts that are fun and light-hearted, and then there’s this one.

A few years back, an Italian woman by the name of Tiziana Cantone recorded a sex tape and sent it out to a few close friends. Unsurprisingly—albeit very unfortunately—someone leaked it online.

Then, bored netizens memed it, plastering a line she uttered at the beginning of the video (“You’re making the video? Good.”) onto a frame featuring her clearly recognizable face.

There are many types of memes that we all appreciate and laugh at, but this one was plain mean.

Following much embarrassment, Mrs Cantone quit her job, moved to a different city, and even attempted to change her name. She also sued multiple websites and online platforms, including Facebook and Google, quoting her “right to be forgotten.”

She won the lawsuit but had to pay €20,000 to cover legal costs. That sent her over the edge.

Moral of the story: meme responsibly.

7. 60% of all memes are political in nature.

(Source: Forbes)

People often think of internet memes as jokes—a tad more modern and visual, to be sure, but jokes nonetheless.

And there’s truth to that—just like most jokes, memes tend to make fun of something, too. Be it a group of people united by faith or ethnicity, complex socioethical issues such as abortion (and its supporters, and its opponents), or simply a controversial political figure, no one’s safe from becoming the subject of a meme.

In fact, 60% of all memes are political in nature. Interestingly, Republicans appear in memes twice as often as Democrats, with former US president Donald Trump being by far the most memed politician.

8. A third of US women are into memes.

(Source: eMarketer)

In general terms, about a third of the US population finds memes interesting, but that’s just on average. If we get down to specifics, it’s actually 31% of men and 33% of women.

Furthermore, the younger the person, the more likely they are to enjoy a good meme. So, it comes as no surprise that barely 9% of baby boomers look at memes whereas millennials see 20-30 memes a day.

Generation Zers see even more.

9. 75% of young people aged 13-36 share memes.

(Source: YPulse)

The primary way in which cool memes spread is from user to user—that is, by sharing them on social media.

Meme-sharing is the second most popular online activity for youngsters in the US. Let’s be honest, it’s practically an official hobby nowadays.

66% of young netizens say they’re likely to share a meme someone else made, whereas 54% share unique memes they create.

Whatever type of meme they choose, the fact is that 55% of them share one at least once a week, 30% do so every single day, while 20% share multiple memes many times a day.

Fun fact: 28% of young people use memes when they can’t describe how they feel with words.

What makes a meme a meme is how successful it is at propagating.

True, there are always hidden gems to be found in the depths of the internet but, most of the time, we’re exposed to a not-so-broad range of memes that are actively popular at any given time.

Some of them are even worth money—lots of it.

(Source: Google Trends)

The latest meme statistics suggest that more and more people are turning to “Futurama Fry,” “Exhausted Spongebob,” and other witty gems—to the detriment of Christianity.

Worldwide, “meme” is twice as popular as a search term as “Jesus” (93:43 search frequency on average).

As a matter of fact, the only countries where Jesus still has the upper hand are the Dominican Republic (63:37 popularity ratio in favor of Jesus), Brazil (62:38), Venezuela (55:45), Spain (55:45), South Africa (55:45), and Portugal (52:48).

At the other end of the spectrum sit Vietnam and Poland (96:4 and 92:8, respectively, in favor of memes).

Fun fact: Jesus’s popularity tends to spike come Christmas and Easter. Even so, He failed to overtake the most popular memes this year, even if it was by as little as four points.

11. Instagram users share over one million memes a day.

(Source: Scholastic)

Long gone are the days when Instagram was a place of beauty, filled with travel photography and good memories.

Now, it’s mostly rehashed TikToks in the form of “reels.” And, of course, memes—instagrammers share over a million of those every day.

It’s called social media, after all, so if current memes are what society wants it to be about, who are we to stop it?

Excluding celebrities and brands, meme pages are among the most popular on Instagram. Examples include 9gag (58.2 million followers), Pubity (31.8 million), and LADbible (12.6 million).

Fun fact: Chanel has 50.9 million followers—quite fewer than 9gag and barely any in the grand scheme of things. Christiano Ronaldo, the most followed celebrity on Instagram, surpassed the 300 million mark back in 2021.

12. The Doge NFT sold for $3.5 million.

(Source: The Guardian)

You’ve probably heard of NFTs—heck, you’ve probably even seen memes mocking NFTs—but did you know that some of the best memes of all time are already sold NFTs?

Nyan Cat is a pretty old meme—its creator, Chris Torres, first posted it online in 2011. Last year, it sold for 300 ETH, which was then worth about $600,000 (and about half of that now).

The well-known Doge also sold as an NFT recently for an even more eye-watering sum—approximately $3.5 million.

Not all viral memes sell well, though. Even in the same “genre,” one can witness great discrepancies. For instance, in May 2021, Charlie Bit My Finger sold for $650,000 or so; David After Dentist, for barely $10,000.

Fun fact: The most expensive NFT to date sold for $532 million. The “CryptoPunk #9998” surpassed “Beeple,” which sold for $69 million in March 2021.

13. The “Distracted Boyfriend” meme came from a stock photo.

(Source: Wired)

Antonio Guillem, a middle-aged Spanish photographer who wasn’t even familiar with the concept of memes, randomly decided to have an infidelity-themed photoshoot in 2015.

He never expected a netizen to pick out one of those shots from Shutterstock and turn it into one of the most iconic memes to date.

Unfortunately, however popular his “Disloyal man walking with his girlfriend and looking amazed at another seductive girl” photo may be, it’s far from being his most profitable one. 

For Guillem, a stock photo that sells 5,000+ times a year is a bestseller. “Distracted Boyfriend” only sells 700 times a year. We guess that when memes go viral, no one really cares about copyright.

Wrap Up

If you’re a memester, you probably care less about the origins of memes and more about coming up with good ones to boost your reach on social media.

As it turns out, however, origins do matter—at least when it comes to selling NFTs based on memes.

But if you’re not into crypto, you needn’t fret. Memes are now a more successful advertising medium than influencers, so job prospects are anything but bleak.

If you found this list of meme statistics memeable enough, then we at Web Tribunal love to see what you can come up with. Meme on!

Jordan T. Prodanoff
Jordan T. Prodanoff

A wayfarer by heart, Jordan fancies journeying into foreign lands with a camera in hand almost as much as he enjoys roving the online world. He spends his time poking at letters and pixels, trying to transmogrify them into something cool.