So, what is a Meme?
A Meme is “an idea, behaviour, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture”. The term “meme” was coined by Richard Dawkins and can trace its roots to as far back as World War II where a graffitied image known as “killroy was here” became a common sight in war torn areas and helped to increase the morale of troops and general population.
However, your average internet user most probably knows meme as a Funny picture to share with his friends, family or random strangers on the internet. Some of the most successful memes like:
Bad Luck Brian:
Overly attached Girlfriend
Baby Godfather meme
and many more brought immense popularity and fame to people who have been turned into memes, many people reported above used their new-found fame to pursue a career in acting, modelling etc. The above memes perfectly demonstrate the power of internet to take something ordinary and transform it into a movement, of course there is an occasional meme which accidently ruins the life of an individual, for example:
The above Meme was transformed into an “Internet-Legend” about a Chinese woman who’d had plastic surgery, unbeknownst to her husband. Her secret was allegedly revealed after she gave birth to “ugly” children who didn’t look anything like her, and the couple divorced over the incident. While this story was debunked many times, it was not before the above Taiwanese model’s life was ruined and her career as a model was over.
The above examples demonstrate how memes can act both as a force for both good and evil and how memes have transformed, for better or worse, the lives of individuals. But, can memes be utilized to bring change on a larger scale? Say win an election or even win a war? The answer is yes.
The most recent example of how memes can be successfully utilized to bring political change is the election of Donald Trump as the President of the United States of America. The trump campaigned successfully managed to harness the power of memes and transformed it into solid electoral gains. Trump and his campaign team retweeted many memes made by the alt-right, using Trump’s vast social media platform to amplify their voices. For example:
Internet sites such as 4 Chan and Reddit actively supported the Trump campaign on Social media. Active support provided by hundreds of thousands of internet users to the Trump campaign played a key role in boosting the popularity of trump campaign. In Internet circles frequent war of words, using just memes, between the supporters of numerous presidential candidates of the two parties from June 2015 to November 2016 is known as the “The Great Meme war”. During this time period users of social media, mostly from sites such as Reddit and 4chan, conducted numerous “operations” to sway the public opinion in United States in order to assist their favourite presidential candidates. Just by the use of memes Internet users were able to successfully start various trends on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Since Internet penetration in the United States is quite significant, 88.5 % of US population is connected to the internet (as of 2016), the trends started on Social Media by the use of memes had a significant impact in convincing countless voters to vote for Donald Trump.
In the 2016 US presidential election not only did memes have surged past the front page of sites like Reddit and 4chan and into news headlines they have shaped and reflected a candidate’s popularity. The number of memes is proportionate to popularity enjoyed by a particular candidate on the Internet. Lack of memes also reflect a candidate’s inability to make waves, a good example of this is Ohio governor John Kasich. There were very few Kasich memes, and it’s important to note that how his inability to remain in the headlines resulted in the Internet largely ignoring him when it came to memes.
Carl von Clausewitz once said “War is the continuation of politics by other means.”
It is only natural that methods which have found considerable success in politics will be utilized in wars. Use of Memes in warfare can be viewed as a ‘digital version ‘of psychological warfare, more commonly known as Propaganda.
Memes just like Propaganda can be effectively utilized to win wars. In many wars, Propaganda was a driving force that kept the battles heated and each country’s population united for a common cause. During World War II posters encouraging ordinary Americans to help the war effort in their own way became very popular, for example:
Posters like these show that if the people of the United States give a strong helping hand, United States will win the war. Implying that even normal citizens can take part in the war even if fighting Is not their cup of tea.
One of the most effective users of memes as propaganda is the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant/ Daesh. The young western jihadist’s which have joined the ranks of IS in large numbers are not some bearded barbarians living in caves like the old Taliban of Afghanistan, they are tech savvy millennials who browse Facebook and twitter ,and create memes in order to recruit more people to their cause. For example:
In this case, “dawlah” refers to “the state,” as in the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant
Not only this, Islamic State/ Daesh is now using the one thing that your average internet user just can’t ignore “CAT MEMES”
Dozens of tweets by this particular handle shows Jihadist playing with their feline friends, along with other types of memes and other ‘homely’ images of life from Raqqah, the capital of the Islamic State.
The Jihadist refer to these cats as ‘mew-jahids’, a term possibly derived from Mujahaids which is used to describe Muslims who are engaged in Jihad, and show the cats playing alongside with other ISIL/Daesh members. This is part of broader strategy to show potential recruits that life in the Islamic State is not so different at all and its members live a normal life. Ultimately, the meme might just be the most powerful and accessible tool in the Islamic State’s/ Daesh social media strategy, especially with regards to youngsters.
Governments around the world need to recognize the power of Memes and the power of Social media and just how important they will be in shaping the 21st century.
Countries like India need recognize that as more number of people get connected to Internet each year the power of memes in influencing public opinion will only increase.