Memes that need to die along with 2016

As we bid farewell to the year, we say good riddance to these memes.

Alfred Ng Senior Reporter / CNET News
Alfred Ng was a senior reporter for CNET News. He was raised in Brooklyn and previously worked on the New York Daily News's social media and breaking news teams.
Alfred Ng
4 min read

RIP: Here are the memes we're hoping die soon.

Getty / Collage created by Alfred Ng/CNET

In a year where memes finally became bigger than Jesus Christ, there are a handful we hope don't return in 2017.

We laughed. We cried. We shared these memes. But now it's time for them to go.

In complete fairness, all memes are awful. None goes viral because it's a well-crafted or original.

"The things that go viral are very often crap," said Filippo Menczer, director at Indiana University's Center for Complex Networks and Systems research arm. "You're just as likely to retweet something because you see it as you are thinking it's really good."

In an ongoing study, Menczer is looking at the difference in content shared when a person sees 10 posts compared with when someone sees 100 posts. He's found that quality gets drowned in a sea of shitposts.

Here are the worst of the worst.

Bury these memes, please

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Pepe the Frog: It's not every day that a meme becomes a hate symbol. The "sad frog" started as a character in Matt Furie's comic series "Boy's Club" back in 2005. It was a harmless cartoon for years until its dark transformation over the past year or so.

White supremacists and anti-Semites appropriated the frog for racist posts across social media. The peak of Pepe the Frog's new identity might have been when Donald Trump manually retweeted a cartoon of himself as Pepe in October 2015. Since then, the Anti-Defamation League has listed Pepe as a hate symbol, among the ranks of swastikas and burning crosses.

Even the meme's original artist wants Pepe's dark new twist to end. In mid-October, he helped launch an effort to #SavePepe and retransform his frog into the goofy amphibian it once was.

Harambe: Harambe the gorilla is dead, but his spirit lives on in memes. The Cincinnati Zoo shot and killed the beloved gorilla in May when a 3-year-old boy fell into the ape's exhibit. The boy was rescued and was not seriously injured.

Shortly after Harambe's death, every person with a social media account suddenly became an animal behavior expert overnight. Some argued that Cincinnati Zoo officials made the wrong call to kill the gorilla. Even more argued that the boy's parents should be held accountable for not properly supervising him.

Although the fury eventually faded, the ironic memorials never did. The memes turned to trolling, forcing the Cincinnati Zoo to delete its Twitter account in August. The zoo quietly returned to Twitter in October but found itself continuing to deal with Harambe trolls.

Delete Your Account: It was once an easy, snappy meme response for any bad tweet. But like any other popular joke, it got overused and lost its spark.

The joke hit its height of popularity in June, when Hillary Clinton tweeted "Delete your account" to Donald Trump. It became the most retweeted moment of the 2016 presidential election, with more than half a million shares.

When a then-68-year-old presidential candidate is hip to a meme, you can tell the joke's already halfway buried.

"The key characteristic of a meme is that it's new and fresh, and you can put your take on it," said Charlene Li, an Altimeter Group analyst.

Crying Jordan: After all the losses in 2016 -- Snape, Prince, Brexit and two major sports teams blowing 3-1 leads in championship series -- there was always the inevitable "Crying Jordan."

The image -- taken by Associated Press photographer Stephan Savoia at the legendary basketball player's Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2009 -- somehow flipped from marking an emotional moment to acting as visual synonym for losing. Even President Obama addressed it during the Medal of Freedom ceremony in November.

"He's more than just a logo, more than just an internet meme," the commander-in-chief said. Of course, Jordan was crying at that moment.

(I actually don't believe this meme will die. As long as people continue to lose, it will live on.)

Grumpy Cat: What was ever the joke with this meme? A cat is angry? OK, cool. Grumpy Cat, whose real name is Tardar Sauce, has become such a successful meme that she's received a book deal, a movie, a comic book and, yes, a stage debut with Cats on Broadway.

The cat's popularity comes from the nearly forgotten era of "I Can Haz Cheezburger" memes, with big block texts sandwiching the image. We hope that Tardar Sauce lives a long, fulfilling life, but the Grumpy Cat meme has used up its nine lives.

Fake News: The fake content you've seen in your social media feeds in 2016 has become a plague. While Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg denies that any of the hoaxes floating around his social network affected the presidential election, he admits they've become a problem.

To Menczer, the fake news definitely qualifies as a meme because it goes viral, it's low quality and people share the content without batting an eye. Most memes are harmless and die within a week or two. Fake news has had lasting power with real-life consequences.

"If 1 million people had seen it and only 1 percent believed it," Menczer said, "that's still a large number."