The Danger of the Meme

The insidious online rise of the alt-right has created a new, extremist political movement.

By Daniel Vidos.

If an image is worth a thousand words, then thousands of images are equivalent to millions of words. No matter how well-read you are, or how well you write or speak, mere words simply can’t compete against the visual germ warfare of the alt-right’s meme-based white tribalism. The Internet-spawned alt-right movement is pumping out a flood of anti-multiculturalism memes, not only in order to self-indulgently wallow in their racial hatred, but also to keep up the tension and provocation on which they feed—which, given the movement’s origins in the darker recesses of Internet trolling, might be the whole point to begin with.

Should we take the movement seriously? The question often arises; after all, how much harm can supposedly funny images on the Internet do? After their appearance at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where one woman was killed by a member of the alt-right, the movement must absolutely be taken seriously. Who is the alt-right addressing and what factions does it have? Analyzing over 3000 alt-right memes from the American 2016 election cycle leads to only one conclusion: the alt-right movement is as far right as one can get. From images of Donald Trump burning Bernie Sanders in an oven for his Jewish origins to a Minesweeper Tank being titled the “Nigger Whipper 9000” to info graphs purporting to explain how a supposed IQ gap between Africans and Whites correlates with poverty, crime, and antisocial behavior, the alt-right’s memes reveal its ideology. It is at best a hate group and at worst an American nightmare.

The alt-right’s adoption of memes is perhaps unsurprising. Taking their name from Richard Dawkins’s explanation of how information spreads, a meme is generally an image to which humorous text has been added. A classic example would be of a frowning cat superimposed with the words “Not impressed”. The image then spreads from the creator to others who share it, often using it as punctuation or shorthand—for instance, someone might post about a poor experience in a store and sum up their reaction by including the meme of the unimpressed cat. While originally the term referred to images that had gone viral, it has …

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