Meme Propagation & Winning the Digital War

6 mins read

Dr. Robert Finkelstein of the University of Maryland presented this definition of meme at the 2011 Social Media for Defense Summit:

A meme is information which propagates, has impact, and persists.

Memetics – the study and theory of memes – has been embraced in defense circles as a way to advance on the battlefield of the information war. Our own military is using memetic strategies to influence foreign populations to act in a way that supports US strategic objectives. 

A meme is colloquially thought of as a picture or video that propagates on social media and influences the minds of those who view it – sowing doubt, altering or reinforcing existing beliefs, or motivating individuals to take action. One of the most important actions that a meme can induce is the simple click of a button – the further propagation of the meme itself through social media sharing. This is how information spreads now.

Unfortunately, the right is winning the meme war. Google “Nancy Pelosi meme”, and all of the top hits are images that mock her age and intellect, or question her patriotism. Similarly, Googling “Democrat memes” yields results where the party (and progressivism generally) gets dragged in each of the top hits. 

But graphics are only one type of vessel for propagation of disinformation. There are others. And in a very real sense, the meme itself is the idea or impression that is being shared regardless of the mode of sharing. The right wing has many favorite stories that it likes to tell: that Democrats are socialists, that socialism is evil, that the government is infallibly incompetent and intent on seizing our rights, that climate change is a hoax…

We need a dedicated strategy to not only counter all of the heavily propagated disinformation coming from the right, but we need to use what we understand about modern information transfer to influence hearts and minds – motivating grassroots participation in get-out-the-vote efforts via memetic propagation on social media.

Using Finkelstein’s definition, memes can be shared via many forms in the digital landscape. We need to embrace and use all of them, to reach the public in a way that resonates with each individual – whether that be through persuasive writing, graphics, videos or auditory artifacts like podcasts. We also need to think beyond any one social platform, and create a mechanism that draws in meme propagators, gives them content to spread, and prompts them to spread it across multiple social platforms using these varied media types.

High-Impact Solution: A Digital Memetic Warfare Center

There is a need on the left for a messaging hub that can help steer the national discourse, support a pro-blue narrative, drive engagement, and consistently hammer on the right wing for what it is: corrupt, rule-of-law-abusing & wholly focused on the welfare of the rich and powerful at the expense of everyday Americans.

Luckily, this type of resource is right at our fingertips. Grassroots digital activists on the left are already producing digital artifacts worthy of propagation, but these articles, graphics, videos and podcasts get lost in all the noise. We need a bullhorn for our memes.

DemCast is a central website (and eventually a corresponding app) built explicitly for this purpose – to cut out the noise and enable a firehose of on-message digital content that can be amplified on social media. A memetic warfare center.

DemCast will curate existing grassroots content, and partner with grassroots organizations throughout the US to recruit volunteer digital content creators and social media amplifiers who will take contributed content and share it across social media platforms including Twitter, Facebook & Instagram, using a dedicated framework of hashtags. A lean editing team will work to ensure that shared content is on-message.

Join DemCast – Propagate Truth

As an activist community, we need to come to grips with how information travels and the implications for 21st century advocacy. We need to embrace social media sharing that transfers critical bits of knowledge, leading to clarified ideas, heightened interest & increased engagement.

Propagation must now be viewed as a civic duty. It may seem silly on its face, but whether you have 30, 300, 3,000 or 3,000,000 followers, hitting that retweet or share button is now akin to digital door-knocking. We are all messengers to those within our sphere. So what message are we carrying? Are we spreading information that is actionable? Helpful? Inspiring?

For our part, DemCast will curate content that paints our community’s bright & inclusive vision for America – one that puts us (the people) first. We will focus on sharing actionable information that will maximize engagement in democracy.

To fulfill our mission, we are enlisting visionaries willing to create crisp, clear and effective media. We are also recruiting activists and social media users to spread those messages intentionally through a concerted effort, as part of a team.

>>Join us<<

DemWrite Press is edited and curated by Nick Knudsen - a political activist and freelance writer living in the Pacific Northwest. Nick has worked in the non-profit sector for nearly 20 years as a technical writer, development officer and program director. He has a BA from Cornell and MA from Stanford.

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