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Statistically Yours: Creation of ‘UCLA Memes for Sick AF Tweens’ and the ultimate meme

By Priyanka Nanayakkara

Feb. 5, 2017 6:02 p.m.

Statistically Yours returns for its second episode. This time, your host Priyanka Nanayakkara brings you data on memes. More specifically, UCLA’s Facebook group “UCLA Memes for Sick AF Tweens.” We interviewed Eric Qu, one of the group’s co-creators, and gathered data from every meme on the group page to see if we could create “the dankest meme.”

NANAYAKKARA: The word “meme” is in the top 1% of searches on the online Merriam-Webster dictionary. If you’re on Facebook, or Twitter, or Reddit or the internet in general, you’ve probably seen a meme. Pictures, often repeated, with different captions. They’re everywhere, and they’re usually meant to make you laugh. If you go to UCLA, you’ve probably heard of the Facebook group “UCLA Memes for Sick AF Tweens.” The group was created in late November last year, yet there are already over 2,000 memes. We’ve all laughed at a meme, but what if we could find out what makes a particular meme funny? Why is it that some memes rise to the top, while others fizzle out? Today we’ll look at some of the funniest memes on the group, and try constructing an equally funny meme with what we learn.

This is “Statistically Yours,” a podcast where we bring you stories through data. I’m your host, Priyanka Nanayakkara. Today’s data come in the form of memes, and specifically, memes from the “UCLA Memes for Sick AF Tweens” Facebook group. We scraped the memes page to get a spreadsheet of memes, the kinds of reactions they received, and who posted the meme. If it surprises you to hear that the group already has over 22,000 members, you are in good company. Eric Qu, one of the group’s co-creators did not expect the group to have such sudden success. The third-year aerospace engineering student dreamed up the idea for creating the group in bed one day, after seeing the UC Berkeley group “UC Berkeley Memes for Edgy Teens.”

NANAYAKKARA: How did you decide, “today I’m going to make the most popular memes page for UCLA?”

QU: Funny story about that. I mean, that day in particular I was just lying in bed, and I’m like, “I need something to get me out of bed.” But I had this idea to make a meme group for pretty much a month. Just the idea in my head, as soon as I found out about the Berkeley one. I actually didn’t want to make it immediately, because I thought (even) if I made it immediately and we got a couple hundred people in it, then I wouldn’t have any content to back it up, then it would just die, kind of instantly. So I didn’t want that to happen. What I wanted to do was essentially stockpile some memes and post one a day upon the group’s creation. And that would keep the ball rolling. But I had no idea the group would explode like that.

NANAYAKKARA: I mean, you’re right. I think “explode” is the right term. You have over 22,000 members.

QU: Yeah, it’s pretty insane. I mean, the first couple of days were pretty insane. I think we got over a thousand members over the course of a day.

NANAYAKKARA: Let’s use number of reactions as a metric of meme popularity. The distribution of reactions per meme is heavily skewed to the right, so if we look at the mean, the few high-scoring memes will drag the mean up. Instead, we will look at the median. The median number of reactions is 150. If a meme gets at least 1,000 reactions, it means it’s cracked into the top 8 percent. At least 2,000 reactions, and it’s in roughly the top 1 percent. But how does a meme get to the top 1 percent? Back in December, UCLA alum Dylan Ler posted one of the most popular memes in the group. It garnered over 2,000 reactions.

LER: Basically it shows the before and after of a person. First he’s smiling and then after that he’s shocked, or in disbelief or something like that.

NANAYAKKARA: In the top-half of the meme, this person is looking at the Washington Post article that says “UCLA is the first school to receive 100,000 freshman applications.” And then below …

LER: And then below he’s like, “Oh wait, it’s not really a good thing because all the classes I wanted will be on waitlist, and closed, and there’s so many people on campus.”

NANAYAKKARA: And then we see the infamous waitlist sign that I think we all know very well from MyUCLA.

NANAYAKKARA: To get Ler’s meme, you have to understand both the pride of knowing your school is highly applied to and the dreaded waitlist struggle. His post taps into one of the key traits of a popular meme: relatability.

LER: The memes that rise up to be really popular – it’s a combination of when you post it and how much an average UCLA student can relate to it. So, I would say at this time the news was really fresh; the post just came out. I’m pretty sure a lot of people scrolled through the Washington Post … I posted this meme the same day the article was released.

NANAYAKKARA: But not all of Ler’s memes do as well. To understand why, we looked at one of his less popular memes. It got less than a hundred reactions, so it wasn’t even in the top 50 percent. To understand this meme, Ler says you need to be an active member of Berkeley’s meme page as well. Long story short, a person named Joseph Goodluck was “memed.”

LER: He became a meme in the Berkeley meme page. So I went to message him, and asked him to join our meme page.

NANAYAKKARA: So you wrote to him. What did you write to him?

LER: I asked him, “Greetings, come join us at UCLA Memes for Sick … Tweens.” Only those people who are in the Berkeley meme page and those people who know about Joseph Goodluck will get this meme.

NANAYAKKARA: Right below is a picture of a polar bear looking very adorable and saying, “I tried.”

NANAYAKKARA: This meme is not as popular because it’s not widely relatable to a UCLA student. Like Ler said, you need to be in the Berkeley meme page and have a pulse on what’s going on there to understand the meme. A funny meme strikes the balance between too broad and too specific. It should be about something that applies to Bruins, but a wide community of Bruins. Several have tried their hand at finding this sweet spot. Of all the people who have posted in the meme group, roughly 80 percent of them post just once or twice. Wali Kamal is not in this category. Kamal is a fifth-year applied mathematics student, who posts frequently. He also draws comics for Al Talib at UCLA. We talked about one of his most popular posts in the meme group.

NANAYAKKARA: You’ve posted over 40 times, which I think makes you far and away the most frequent poster on the page.

KAMAL: I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing!

NANAYAKKARA: No, it’s just a statistic! I was wondering if we could look at one of your most popular posts, and this is from Jan. 10. If you could just describe it to us, tell us what’s going on with it …

KAMAL: This is that classic “Kermit to Darth Kermit,” I guess you could call it, where it’s the me-to-me. “Me: Get out of bed for my 8 a.m. Me to me: Drop the class.” Looking at the post, this was during week one – my first discussion for my stats class – at 7:42 a.m., so I woke up a little late for discussion. But yeah, it was a thought that went through my head: “Maybe I should switch into another discussion or drop the class entirely.” But obviously that’s not a good modus operandi.

NANAYAKKARA: Sure, I mean, I’m looking at it now and it got over 2,000 reactions. What do you think makes this meme so popular?

KAMAL: Kind of how outrageous it is. You don’t just drop a class because you don’t want to wake up (at) 8 a.m. Also, it’s a pretty common – not common – but like, it’s an appropriate caption for the image macro itself. It kind of fits it just as it was meant to be, or as it was originated. And I’m sure it resonated with a lot of folks, because everyone hates getting out of bed really early.

NANAYAKKARA: Again, we see relatability as the key to a funny meme. The data backs this up. Out of the top hundred memes on the page, 20 percent were about grades or exams. That seems reasonable, since the group is intended for college students. Thirteen percent of the top hundred memes were about dining halls, and specifically UCLA dining halls. For example, UCLA students all know B-Plate. If a meme has B-Plate in it, we immediately know the context. We can relate. To see if we could use this information to make a hilarious meme, we called in Chris Campbell, Daily Bruin’s Opinion editor and self-proclaimed resident Meme-master.

NANAYAKKARA: Okay, so Chris has created his meme. Chris, can you tell us what’s going on here?

CAMPBELL: I’ve combined those elements into one super meme … What we have here is a picture of a sad banana. This is a banana that’s drooping over … it’s half peeled, and the bottom half of the banana is removed. … Someone drew a sad face on it with a marker. … So the caption reads “Eating dinner at Covel when you have an 8 a.m. midterm tomorrow.” So you cover the popular themes of Covel, and their bananas.

NANAYAKKARA: Now, for the big moment…

NANAYAKKARA: Okay, so it’s 7:54 p.m., and Chris is going to post his meme.

CAMPBELL: Five, four, three, two, one … and that is posted! We’ll check back in 24 hours, and see how well the meme did or did not do. Until then, stay fresh Bruins.

NANAYAKKARA: Yay! This is exciting! Can we wait for the first reaction to roll in? How long does it usually take?

CAMPBELL: A few seconds.

NANAYAKKARA: Ooh, nothing’s happening.

CAMPBELL: Oh well, we tried. We tried, fam bam.

NANAYAKKARA: Twenty-four hours later, and not much changed. About a day after posting, the meme only had around 20 reactions. It didn’t make the top 50 percent, let alone the top 1 percent. We can find patterns in popular memes, topics that are popular, frequently used words, even. However, maybe there is something unquantifiable about humor. Maybe that’s what keeps Bruins coming back to the page, searching for something intangible. Something that’s rooted in a shared experience.

CAMPBELL: Bruins meme because they want to feel part of a larger community here at UCLA. They want to do so through something that’s relatable, but also very funny at the same time, and something that makes reference to some of the shared struggles we all go through, whether that’s stress over finals or midterms, whether that’s long lines at the dining halls, whether that’s increasing tuition rates. There’s a lot of scary stuff going on in this world, but if you can make a meme out of it maybe it makes it a little bit better.

NANAYAKKARA: Perhaps the success of the memes page lies in its ability to connect us to one another. UCLA is a large school. We are a big community. Memes express our shared experience. They give us a framework for laughing together. And what’s better than that?

Thanks for listening to “Statistically Yours.” If you have any questions, or comments please email us at [email protected]

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