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“Cancer” is an Internet slang term used to describe the percieved or actual misuse of internet memes by someone who is unfamiliar with internet culture. This metaphor draws a parallel between the growth cycle of an internet meme or viral video and that of cancer in a biological system.
The earliest known use of “cancer” in this context appeared in early 2007 as part of the catchphrase “The Cancer That is Killing /b/” in a thread on the GunzFactor forums detailing the history of 4chan’s Habbo Hotel raid. Another user in the thread called out the OP for doing so, lamenting that “fags” from other websites have been flooding 4chan’s /b/ (random) board and degrading the quality of conversations on the forum.
“Cancer” is an Old English word, sometimes also spelled canceradlm, once used to describe “spreading sore.” It was derived from the Latin word “cancer” and the Greek word karkinos, meaning “crab” and “tumor” respectively, in addition to being the name of a constellation found between Gemini and Leo. Both the Greek and Latin terms are derived from the Proto-Indo European root word *qarq-, meaning “to be hard.”
Throughout the summer of 2007, the word “cancer” continued to gain momentum on personal blogs and message boards, becoming heavily associated with the perceived gentrification of 4chan’s /b/. In August 2007, a definition for “4crap” was submitted to Urban Dictionary, describing 4chan as “the cancer of the internet.” In October, the earliest archived 4chan thread (shown below) using the phrase in a combo-style image post was archived via Chanarchive.
By July 2008, 4chan founder moot had acknowledged the use of “cancer” to refer to misused content in a blog post about the state of /b/. That September, a thread about /b/ was posted to the 4chan BBS Lounge, asking if the cancer had spread to the site’s text section. In July 2010, an image macro of 60s Spider-Man with the caption “That Post Gave Me Cancer” surfaced on 4chan. Both the image and phrase have since become a common retort for poorly made or reposted content.
A wide range of Internet-based activities, subcultures and properties have been subject to the label of “cancer” by users on 4chan and other internet meme elitists.
With the convergence of the mainstream and the Internet culture in recent years, market demand for merchandise products with meme designs have been on the rise as well. Several images of these products have since appeared online and have been criticized for their misuse of the source material and commodification of others’ artworks.
Similar to the commodification of internet memes, a number of ad-supported blogs and online communities focusing on the Internet culture have come under the accusation of being cancerous, as well as marketing and advertisement campaigns that incorporate well-known meme references.
Forcing a meme, or an inorganic attempt at co-oping a specific idea into the meme culture at large, has been widely stigmatized as a cancerous practice and a faux-pas.
Meme Overload refers to the practice of combining multiple internet meme references into a single imagery or a video production. The merit of this practice has been disputed, with some recognizing the trend as an emerging subgenre of online remix culture while others have criticized it as a circle jerk largely driven by the hyperinflation of the meme culture.
“The Cancer That Is Killing /b/”
The Cancer That Is Killing /b/ is a common phrase used to refer to whatever and whomever one would blame for the perceived decline in the quality of content on 4chan’s /b/.
“That Post Gave Me Cancer”
That Post Gave Me Cancer is an image macro series commonly used in response to nonsensical or insubstantial posts submitted by the original poster (OP) or other users in a given thread. This hyperbolic expression is typically used on 4chan to express one’s disgust towards a trend or a thread.