Where does lel come from?
Lel was born on the popular image-board site 4chan in the mid-2000s, with its E apparently a random substitute for the O in lol. While its exact origins are unclear, it ostensibly originated in online forums as a novel, exclusive-seeming variant on lol, which users felt had become overused to the point of being meaningless—and perhaps mainstreamed to the point of being uncool.
According to Google Trends, lel spread to other social media sites like Reddit and Twitter between 2012 and 2015. In some internet contexts, lel developed a darker side, with some users pairing lel with a Trollface image, a meme based on a rage comics character and sometimes used by troublemakers online. Some might even consider lel a dank meme, a meta-meme which parodies conventional internet humor.
Who uses lel?
Lel can have a subtle but significant difference from lol, as it can connote sarcastic or cynical laughter and can be used to laugh at someone. As a result, it can be interpreted as condescending and mocking and can be associated with internet trolls.
Still, as lel spread from the more obscure corners of online message-boards to the internet mainstream, it also took on softer, more general tones of general amusement or surprise—and perhaps carries a hipper, more in-the-know prestige than the familiar lol.
Lel is sometimes stylized as TOP LEL, which serves as a reaction to something that's particularly humorous or shocking. Be very mindful that TOP LEL is often associated with topkek, a superlative form of kek, itself a corruption of lol favored by the alt-right. While lel is less politically and racially charged than kek, both can be used to express cruel laughter.
In some instances, lel may be used to stand-in for laughing extremely loud, an intensive form of lol.
found out i have midterm today lel
@baseddondiego March, 2018
I’ve got to seriously stop lip syncing in public this girl thought I was talking to myself. Embarrassing. LEL IMMA CARRY ON
@whatismylifesis, March, 2018
You can't teach old dogs new tricks. Let alone teach Trump to be presidential at his age of 71. lel
@OloapZurc, November, 2017