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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

Updated 7 hours ago - World

Mexican President López Obrador tests positive for coronavirus

Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador during a press conference at National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico, on Wednesday. Photo: Ismael Rosas/Eyepix Group/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced Sunday evening that he's tested positive for COVID-19.

Driving the news: López Obrador tweeted that he has mild symptoms and is receiving medical treatment. "As always, I am optimistic," he added. "We will all move forward."

7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Sarah Huckabee Sanders to run for governor of Arkansas

Sarah Huckabee Sanders at FOX News' studios in New York City in 2019. Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders will announce Monday that she's running for governor of Arkansas.

The big picture: Sanders was touted as a contender after it was announced she was leaving the Trump administration in June 2019. Then-President Trump tweeted he hoped she would run for governor, adding "she would be fantastic." Sanders is "seen as leader in the polls" in the Republican state, notes the Washington Post's Josh Dawsey, who first reported the news.

Coronavirus has inflamed global inequality

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

History will likely remember the pandemic as the "first time since records began that inequality rose in virtually every country on earth at the same time." That's the verdict from Oxfam's inequality report covering the year 2020 — a terrible year that hit the poorest, hardest across the planet.

Why it matters: The world's poorest were already in a race against time, facing down an existential risk in the form of global climate change. The coronavirus pandemic could set global poverty reduction back as much as a full decade, according to the World Bank.