They analyze 2 million Reddit memes and find that over the years they become more complex, probably becoming a metalanguage

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A group of Italian mathematicians studied the evolution of 2 million memes published on the Reddit platform between the years 2011 and 2020, and concluded that the complexity of their content has been increasing over time, supposedly becoming a metalanguage, a study reveals, published this Friday in the journal Scientific Reports.

The team, led by Carlo M. Valensise from the Enrico Fermi Study and Research Center, used machine learning techniques and a grouping algorithm to rank the memes from four website communities – r / AdviceAnimals, r / memes, r / CemeteryComed, and r / dankmemes – based on the underlying templates and found out how the lifespan and frequency of the new memes were related with the popularity of his employer.

They were based on a evolutionary theory of British biologist Richard Dawkins and they took from it three main elements: replication (memes have a common pattern that is used as a means of expression); variation (patterns change regularly); and selection (memes compete with each other for the attention of users, so some are forgotten while others remain popular for a long time).

In the first stage of their study, the researchers used the neural network to divide all memes into four large groups: two with animals, one with people and the last with all the other topics. Then another algorithm grouped the memes into ‘clusters’: the images within a group were similar to the original pattern.

Thanks to this, the mathematicians were able to see how new patterns and new memes appeared within each group and found that the number of new patterns grows exponentially over time, doubling every 6 months. According to the study, if a pattern is not popular, new memes based on it may appear only once every several years; if the pattern is popular, the hiatus rarely exceeds 3-4 months.

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Finally, they found that, for all the Reddit communities analyzed, the average annual complexity of memes has grown steadily, which could indicate the transformation of these into a metalanguage.

At the same time, they pointed out that its increasing complexity is inevitably associated with the formation of dialects of this language, which are only understood within a given community. For example, a meme created within a specific group of people, such as video game fans, could be incomprehensible to the rest of the internet.

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