This article examines the social media challenges that emerged in 2013, focusing particularly on Neknomination, the Ice-Bucket Challenge and SmearForSmear. We suggest that these are best thought of as ‘viral challenge memes’ and manifest a set of consistent features that make them a distinctive phenomenon within digital culture. Drawing upon Tarde’s (1903, 2010/1888) concept of the imitative-encounter, we highlight three central features: their basis in social belonging and participation, the role of prestigious people and groups in determining the spread of challenges, and the distinctive techniques of self-presentation undertaken by participants. Based upon focus group interviews, surveys and visual analysis we suggest that viral challenge memes are social practices that diffuse in a wave-like fashion. Negotiating tensions between the social and individual, imitation and innovation, continuity and change, viral challenge memes are best thought of as creative practices, rather than sheep-like acts of conformity, and affirm the usefulness of analytical principles drawn from Tarde.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Social Sciences(all)