The Internet Meme, which has become an extremely common form of self-expression and sentiment-sharing, will increasingly become a tool to manipulate the masses. This concern of mine was voiced at the end of my previous blog post about the advent of the Internet Meme with the example of how Vladimir Putin has cultivated support from Russia’s youth through his effective use of his meme, “Man like Putin.” The meme, by means of an internet video and pop song, was first created for and then adopted by Putin and played on Russian radio stations. Its catchy theme and music has turned a propaganda song into a top hit in Russia.
You might be thinking, “So what? That was in Russia; memes cannot be used to influence people here in the United States!”
That is where you and I would disagree.
Memes, by definition, spread quickly and alter cultural attitudes. Would it really be difficult for someone to create a meme that is sure to spread like wildfire and alter a cultural attitude to their advantage? My answer would be a definite “No.” How hard is it to create an internet meme? New ones are created all of the time. In order for an internet meme to catch on, it has to engage the audience, capture a sentiment they have already experienced, and bring them to a conclusion which they expected. Without any of these three parts, an internet meme will not catch on. All three of these things are already found in campaign ads. The only thing that is stopping the bridging of memes with commercials is the lack of understanding of internet memes with the older generations who do not have experience with them due to their relatively recent origination.
Consider the Presidential Election this year in November. Right now, we cannot say who will win the election with certainty because the election is still more than a month away and plenty of things can happen from now until then that might sway the results. Say that one candidate was able to produce a TV ad or even a simple image on the internet that closely followed the pattern of an internet meme. This pseudomeme could slander his opponent beyond repair a few days before the election and sway the results in his favor illegitimately. I am not saying that it is likely, just that it is possible.
In the stark contrast to government politics, the hacktivist group, Anonymous, has adopted a meme as their source of inspiration from imageboards. With imageboards, users have the choice to set their names to Anonymous when posting. When many users chose to stay “Anonymous” on imageboards, it became unclear who was saying what and gave the appearance that one person was making all of the posts without a username. This collective combination of being unknown and omnipresent on the internet was adopted by the hacktivist group. Eventually, the Guy Fawks Mask, another meme from the original Gunpowder Plot and the movie, V for Vendetta, was adopted as a symbol for the organization.
This group warns against the same type of government manipulation of society as I mentioned above, but they have no qualms with breaking the law, if need be, for their plans to succeed.
Anonymous is particularly famous for its targeting of the faux religion, Scientology. They believe that the leaders of Scientology have been manipulating the Church’s followers, bleeding them dry, and then covering it up. In the video below, Scientology is called out on its “campaigns of misinformation, [its] suppression of dissent, [and its] litigious nature…” Anonymous says that the Church of Scientology is brainwashing people and abusing their civil rights, the same thing I fear might happen should the power of memes falls into the wrong hands.
I am not saying that I am a supporter of Anonymous, just that they bring up a very important point when it comes to how powerful groups can manipulate people.
The have also targeted the United States Senate for their acts which to Anonymous, “Effectively ends the Bill of Rights in America.”
The next video is a direct message to Obama from Anonymous. This one is particularly disturbing because it calls the President a “disgrace to the presidency” for having “sold out to the corporate injustices that every American involved in the Occupy movement is speaking out against.”
It is interesting that Anonymous is using memes to identify itself as well as fight the organizations that one day may manipulate memes for their own purposes.