What is a meme? This is a question that anyone who has graced social media in the last 5 years can readily answer, but from this, you will not get a complete definition. Memes have existed since the dawn of communication, and are the basic building blocks of culture. Any action that a person (or arguably animal) can do and be imitated by another, is a meme. Every word is a meme, as is the first sentence that used that word, as well as every quotation ever made, notable or otherwise, and even the ability to communicate without words that you are thirsty or hungry or see something in the distance. This article itself is a meme. They are the base unit of a culture; memes are to a culture as genes are to a living being. I’m not here today to talk of cultural memes in general, but a specific subset of memes, radical political/apolitical, grotesque, reactionary and false internet memes on social media.
Meme warfare is a term used to describe the use of said memes to change how people think and feel about certain issues, political candidates, or governmental systems. It is the propaganda of the Internet Age, but propaganda is a word with so much social stigma attached. When most people think of propaganda, they have thoughts of nazis and soviets from ages past, but don’t recognise the news they watch every evening for what it really is. Meme warfare is propaganda from the bottom up. It is an expression from people who are just like you, that live the same struggles as you. This is not propaganda from the top, where your political leaders hand down the “acceptable ideology”, but people struggling to be heard over the static of the MSM. I can’t say that all of the ideas are good, most of them are likely not, but I’m starting to have serious doubts that we will see any positive change in the way governments are run, at least coming from our supposed representatives.
This specific subset of memes are a very powerful tool in todays marketplace of ideas. They promote critical thinking, and bring to the forefront ideas that many people had never considered or even been exposed to. Memes are an extremely efficient means of conveying an idea to someone who has never been exposed to the content therein. Memes and social media posts in general, have the potential to have not only a national, but a global reach, and this is an avenue that activists and advocates have never had before in the history of mankind.
There is, however, a darker side to this, depending on your perspective. There are memes floating around that have false, grotesque, or hateful messages, either deliberately, or otherwise. There are some people who seek to censor or ban such things, but I urge caution with this. False reports and real consequences due to them, are already a big problem on social media, and when anything can be flagged as fake news, or hate speech, it becomes easier and easier for people who have descenting opinions to be silenced by people who are offended, hold opposing viewpoints, just want to create havoc, and/or probably some I didn’t think of.
Many people do not comprehend the power of memes, some even deplore their use, deeming them stupid or “not a conversation,” but still they are an invaluable tool for someone who has frequent debates and conversations on the internet; as, if you have a good selection of memes in your repitoir, you don’t have to sit and type out lengthy replies to everything. You can already have something prepared for specific scenarios that crop up frequently. I cannot say for certain the raw impact that internet memes have on the entirety of their audience, but I have seen quite a few people change their minds or at least consider an outside opinion based on memes and the resulting conversations.