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Buy memes low, sell memes high: vernacular criticism and collective negotiations of value on Reddit’s MemeEconomy

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While existing scholarship has focused on distilling the attributes of successful memes and the dynamics of their propagation in online spaces, there is a lack of research on the vernacular criticism of memes beyond quantitative markers of popularity. By examining the MemeEconomy community on Reddit, where ‘meme traders’ appropriate stock market terminology to discuss and appraise memes, this article aims to understand how this particular subculture of self-proclaimed meme insiders assigns value to viral media. Our findings point to the salience of four key features that are seen to determine a meme’s value: its positioning in relation to the mainstream, its versatility and expansion potential, its topicality or cultural relevance, and its perceived quality. We discuss implications for the formation and reinforcement of subcultural identities around memes, and theorize the role of vernacular criticism as fulfilling significant social functions in online communities.
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Keywords: Memes; Reddit; online communities; value; vernacular criticism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA

Publication date: January 28, 2019

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