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Expand chart
Data: Google Trends; Chart: Axios Visuals

The 2010s saw memes spread beyond social media to influence global politics, business and culture.

Why it matters: Memes are now used in politics to both divide and unite. Brands as diverse as Olive Garden and Gucci use them for online marketing. And they're at the center of a widening generational divide as internet users of different ages splinter to their preferred social media networks.

Timeline ... A look at how memes have shaped our society over the past decade:

  • The 2012 presidential race was called the first "meme election," where slip-ups by candidates translated into online mockery.
  • 2013: The "Harlem Shake" took over, with videos of flailing dancers swarming the internet.
    • Images of Shiba dogs became widely known as "doge," inspiring a plethora of online content. The trend propelled the creation of "dogecoin," a cryptocurrency based off the bit.
  • 2014: Slenderman, a mythical creature made mainstream by memes, showed an uglier side of the art when two preteen girls attempted to kill their classmate as a sacrifice to the creature.
    • But the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge showed their benevolent side the same year, with the meme of having a bucket of ice water dumped on your head raising $115 million for the ALS Association that summer.
  • 2015: The once innocent "Pepe the Frog" meme began to fester in nationalist circles, becoming a face of alt-right propaganda.
  • 2016: Memes surpassed Jesus in Google search interest, Gizmodo reported. Jesus had previously been the most-searched subject since 2011.
  • 2018: A report from House lawmakers showed thousands of Facebook ads backed by Russian operatives, many of which were memes, used to pit Americans against one another before and after the 2016 elections.
    • Fringe-right activists also used covert memes to sow division within the Democratic party during the 2018 midterm elections.
  • 2019: A group of Instagram meme account owners sought to unionize.
    • Memes helped political outsider Andrew Yang rise to popularity in the 2020 presidential race, with his supporters, dubbed the #YangGang, plastering his face on memes across platforms.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker will not seek re-election in 2022

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) speaking during a press conference in November 2021. Photo: Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R), a moderate who typically ranks as one of the nation's most popular governors, said Wednesday that he and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito (R) will not seek third terms in 2022.

Why it matters: The decision leaves the gubernatorial race wide open and will likely affect multiple down-ballot races next year. Baker was expected to be the front-runner had he joined the race.

3 hours ago - Health

CDC prepares tougher testing rules for international travelers

Travelers with their luggage arrive at a COVID-19 testing location at the airport in Los Angeles, Calif., on Nov. 23, 2021. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday night that it is working to impose stricter testing requirements for international travelers due to the spread of the new Omicron variant.

The big picture: The new rules would require all international travelers, regardless of vaccination status, to show a negative test taken a day before their flight to the U.S. Currently, the CDC says fully vaccinated travelers are allowed to show a test taken no more than three days before their departure, AP reports.

Republicans threaten to shut down government over vaccine mandates

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) in the Capitol in November 2020. Photo: Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

Conservative Republicans in the House and Senate are planning to force a government shutdown Friday to deny funding needed to enforce the Biden administration's vaccine mandates on the private sector, according to Politico.

Why it matters: Congress has until the end of the week to pass a stopgap measure to extend funding into 2022, though objection from a small group of Republicans could shut down the government.