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February 4, 2010

Discovering the 'Doppelganger' meme on Facebook

Posted: 04:18 PM ET

I’ve rarely felt more confused than last night when I signed on Facebook and saw Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus and Heather Graham’s pictures on my News Feed.

It took me a minute to realize I hadn't suddenly become part of a celebrity social circle - my friends simply had changed their profile pictures to those of celebrities.

But I still didn't know exactly what was going on until I did some searching.

As it turns out, it's "Doppelganger Week," the latest cultural meme to take Facebook by storm, and it has a number of people switching their profile pictures to celebrity lookalikes. After climbing out of the metaphorical hole I had been hiding in the last few weeks, I realized the immeasurable extent of Doppelganger Week’s popularity.

Justin Smith, the editor of Inside Facebook, assured me I’m not alone in my delayed discovery.

“No official dates are associated with [Doppelganger Week], he said. “As more people discover it, it will continue to grow. There are 350 million people on Facbeook. It could be a while, not necessarily just a couple more days.”

This is by no means the first cultural trend on Facebook. Masses of women have posted the color of their bras on Facebook in honor of breast cancer awareness. And others have made status updates out of the Urban Dictionary definitions of their first names.

Smith said Doppelganger can make for some funny social interactions:

“There was one awkward interaction where someone commented, ‘Wow you’re looking great theses days,’ not knowing (the picture) was a celebrity. But this is to be expected. People are still discovering it,” he said.

Despite the trend’s many followers, CNET isn’t jumping on “Doppelganger Week” bandwagon. The site says the celebrity alter-ego photos could violate Facebook’s Terms of Service.

Facebook asks its users not to post photos they don't have the rights to.

In an e-mail to, Facebook spokeswoman Kathleen Loughlin said the issue hasn't come up yet:

Users are responsible for the content they post, but as always, Facebook will respond to requests for removal that it receives from copyright holders. In this case, we have received no such requests.

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Patrick   February 4th, 2010 6:21 pm ET

Why do people use this word "meme"? It is a pseudo-scientific slang word invented by a pretentious atheist biologist. It has no scientific worth or cultural importance. It's pop culture definitions include the word "idea," "unit" and "concept." It is not that different from the outdated word "app" and is equally annoying and inappropriate for use in news stories such as this.

Steve   February 5th, 2010 10:11 am ET


People use the word because that's the accepted word for what this is. Language is a fluid thing. It changes all the time. And while I agree with you that news stories should have a higher level of quality control, this is a blog (which for some reason is listed as news).

Tom   February 5th, 2010 10:28 am ET

Rage against the word Patrick. Maybe you should write a letter to CNN and the world to let them know how offensive a word is to you........ Or we could realize that its just a word... like pretentious... or black kettle

Anonymous   February 5th, 2010 11:14 am ET

@ Patrick

Remember when "gay" meant "happy"? Also, trying googling meme to find out its true worth among the internet community. I agree it's shameful that they used it on a news article, but you'de be surprised to see how it came to actually mean what it does today.

James   February 5th, 2010 11:26 am ET


The author uses the word "meme" so that the reaser can infer that this "idea," "unit" and "concept" is subject to the general rules of variation and discrimination and can therefore evolve. It's another way of saying that Doppelganger Week is subject to change in ways dictated by our culture and that it only made it as far as it has because of user participation. Similarly, YouTubers use the word "viral" to describe popular videos.

The fact that "meme" was invented by a "pretentious atheist biologist" (Richard Dawkins) should be irrelevant to your complaint, but obviously it isn't. In fact, you shouldn't call it "pseudo-scientific" when it was invented by a world-renowned scientist and accepted by his peers in the scientific community. I and anybody else who reads this can only assume that you have reservations against the word "meme" because of your reservations against Mr. Dawkins. That "meme" has words beside it in a thesaurus is no reason not to use it. Your argument could easily be reversed to complain about the use of the word "idea" because "concept" could be used instead. You don't hate the word "meme." You hate atheists.

Lastly Patrick, "App" is not outdated. It's still very new, actually. It's much newer than "meme" anyway. Maybe you should download a Bible App and thump that around instead of that dusty leatherback. Oh, and maybe there's a Prayer App so you can text God about how much you hate atheists.

Trevor Dorl   February 5th, 2010 1:44 pm ET

It dosent neccesarily mean that go look it up in the amrican heritage dictionary.

Derik   February 5th, 2010 2:01 pm ET

Because the phenomenon isn't quite structured enough to be called a "fad"... it's a general application of a component concept which goes into a fad. Lacking a good term for that "meme" (the smallest unit of concept) has been substituted despite not being lexically correct.

I still prefer it over "viral trend" which is that mainstream media used to call it.

Robert   February 5th, 2010 2:38 pm ET

@ Patrick

People use the word meme because that's what this is. An internet phenomenon or trend in internet culture is a meme, and it always will be. It sounds like your dissatisfaction with the word is a personal problem with the person who invented it.

Maria   February 5th, 2010 2:49 pm ET

read a book, meme is an old word used in social sciences.

George   February 5th, 2010 6:25 pm ET


You think that slang isn't appropriate for an article about Facebook? How out of touch are you? And why throw atheist in there? Are atheists incapable of advancing culture? Talk about pretentious...

Shawn   February 5th, 2010 9:04 pm ET

Get over it Patrick, what makes you the expert?

Louis   February 7th, 2010 9:08 am ET

My doppleganger was Fred Savage. No further explanation is needed.

Jim   February 7th, 2010 9:50 am ET

Scholarly criticism suggesting that meme transmission can't be empirically studied is certainly valid, but Dawkins' original formulation of memes as self-replicating, transmissible, and subject to natural selection pressures — and hence analogous to biological genes — is pretty brilliant. It's one of the things that still makes "The Selfish Gene" a must-read for students seeking a better understanding of evolutionary theory.

Richard   February 7th, 2010 11:57 am ET

meme |mēm|
noun Biology
an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, esp. imitation.
memetic |mēˈmetik; mə-| adjective
ORIGIN 1970s: from Greek mimēma ‘that which is imitated,’ on the pattern of gene.

btw, why did you mention that the word was coined by a "pretentious atheist"? had the biologist you cite been a believer in whatever religion you are, would you be happier with meme? And is that term (pretentious atheist), or your attitude, a meme?

Devon Simons   February 8th, 2010 8:32 am ET

While the 'news-worthiness' of blogs is debatable, the 'meme' word works because it serves the linguistic function of successfully transmitting an idea from one person to another.

michael   February 8th, 2010 11:22 pm ET

LOL @ Patrick... not for getting all B... hurt... but for all the responses. Welcome to 2010 Patrick. go to for a lesson on the internet...

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