Prestige, Performance, and Social Pressure in Viral Challenge Memes: Neknomination, the Ice Bucket Challenge and SmearForSmear as Imitative Encounters

Adam Burgess, Vincent Miller, Sarah Moore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Citations (Scopus)


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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1035-1051
Number of pages17
Issue number5
Early online date17 Jan 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2018


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)

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