The MEME and you, or how to wage “gorilla warfare”

The Internet MEME phenomenon. So much talk, so little understanding.

Is this even a meme?
The Fail Meme Kid – credit: QuickMeme

The MEME is possibly one of the most misunderstood phenomenons on the internet. Especially by people that try to understand it to explain it to us, failing miserably (pic related).

The Doge would agree.

Memes can be powerful and terrible, they are credited to have helped elect presidents (or better have been elected president of the US) and shape public opinion.

Success Kid - Social media Expert
Credit :

Internet memes do work to an extent, and for sure they are at least responsible for some of the fake news circulating around social networks. But, to work they need to be understood by the target culture. Nothing new here, we’re just trying to restate the obvious truth that a lot of “social media experts” are missing.

Apparently Russia, China, the Intelligence agencies and in general all the shady flocks around the planet are striving to use memes to gain world domination. As in, if Pepe the Frog (below) could be used to sway public opinion and perception. Also: your mom would not understand Pepe the Frog.

Credit: Memegenerator / imgflip

Or people in South East Asia will probably have a couple of issues understanding that Dank Doge Meme we have as a featured image.

As we do not understand Lebanese Yoda…

Lebanese Yoda electricity times knows he.
Credit The Guardian

You get the point. Memes are culture-bound more than anything else. Because they are CREATED by a very specific segment of a culture.

And they cannot really convey complex messages.

Yes, they’re funny and they can cause a couple of guys to shift their perspective a little on topic. But still you could not use the to spark an Arab Spring… or could you?

From what we can view (and we have a W I D E view) there needs to be more than memes if you want to influence people. If they were to be used as a weapon of mass influence, they had to go along some more systematic and organized information strategy. Memes alone will bring you nowhere (at least they’ll make you laugh).

But in elections. (in the US).

What is a MEME, anyway?

Everybody can do a search on Google, right? And casually land on the corresponding Wikipedia webpage, right? So We’re not going to insult your intelligence with the whole story about the guy who wanted to find a word to describe the biological behavior of a cultural element carrying information around “independently”, and that is also capable of evolving and had its own life cycle. You can go ahead and educate yourself.

For the purpose of this page it will suffice to say they are not only images. In fact they are not images at all, they are ideas. Concepts. That usually (on the internet) use the husk of an image (e.g. a still from a movie, a photoshopped picture. But they could be anything: text, sound, video, jokes) as a vessel to bring a message. And they evolve, they combine with one another, and they go extinct.

Or try very hard to come into existence…

Milhouse not being a meme is a meme… Clear as mud huh?

BUT, Do WE like you?

Yes. We like MEMEs.

They reference to our culture, our past, hint at our expectations and represent our inner child. They can say what they want to say, which is incidentally what WE want to say. This is why we like them so much. MEMEs are ingrained into our culture but they also make it (at least they make our online culture and often spill over into real life).

MEMEs work because of that. They were once single messages, images with a given meaning (or texts with a specific purpose). Then magic happens, and they became vehicles for ideas. Their original meaning can be retained or they get re-defined and more meanings get bolted on top of the original one, sometimes reinforcing it, sometime subverting it altogether.

The Semantic Lasagna

Yep, that what it boils (broils?) down to: semantic lasagna… strata of meaning one on top of the other, with the bottom one designed to get you with familiarity.

They are a flag of anarchy, an indication of how something that was once intended to carry a concept can be used to convey something else altogether. Yet they are comprehensible…

…to a restricted portion of the audience they reach. And this is their limitation, they are LIMITED. They are funny, but limited. You need proper understanding of the parent culture to be able to decode, understand, laugh at and be influenced by a meme, or you could fall for the stalest copypasta of them all and believe that somebody is going to go all “gorilla warfare” on you.

Obi Wan knows better

Worse, you might think you could actually win hearts and minds with this trick. And those ain’t no Jedi mind tricks.

They’re just internet geek insider jokes that might happen to have an effect on people already inside that same pocket of internet sub-culture.


That’s it. We’re pretty sure that stuff was not in Hitler’s head. Studies say you cant really live without brain…

they’re not really new as a form of communication. When did we use images, catchy phrases and impact-like fonts to communicate over-simplified ideas? We really cant’ think of any (PSST: look to the right! ->)


And even if we did, we are pretty sure that stuff alone would not have had any effect if it wasn’t backed by actions and other stuff that gave it ground to stand on.


So you think you can win with memes? That they will help you wind the next political election? Think again. You might find you need strategy, communication plans, specialists, advisors and maybe some actual skills yourself…

Non Creto nemmeno io.
He thinks not.

…eh, maybe not. As a matter of fact, I might take that back. Definitely not.

The post-truth box, or how to be smart around fake news.

we hear a lot of talking about the post-truth era, fake news, propaganda and the like.

So we think: this is the nth BS story taken way too seriously by people that take themselves way too seriously.

Journalists who do not want to lose their job.
Politicians scared that their reputation will erode because of the acid propaganda flinged at them.
And a fully populated middle earth of self proclaimed media gurus who now have the skills to point out what post-truth is and how to counter it. With all that goes with it, including how to recognize false propaganda, how to mitigate its effects.
And to tell you who’s behind that news outlet or “who gains” from this or that news item, they’d garnish all with a side of ‘behindology’ (…conspiracy theories, that is, but we thought the “behind” element was strangely fitting here…). Or did you want fries with that?


Fake news are a fact.

Beautiful, isn't it?

The post-truth era? Not so much. We have given people of the world (and we mean the whole freaking Blue Marble, not just the so-called western countries, the northern hemisphere or the rich ones, we really mean men and women on the whole Earth) access to the so-called Mainstream Media (Radio, TV, the press and nowadays Internet).

Radio and TV (and the press) are by their own nature very controllable media. Someone decides what goes on them and the whole population receives them passively. We have been trained, during the 6/7 decades in which we had television, to LISTEN and BELIEVE to what came from the box.

The box can be no wrong. It does know. It uses big words. If it uses a word that becomes language.

This is the power we abdicated to the box, it makes our language, therefore it chooses the words we use, the symbols we recognize and interpret to represent and recreate our worlds in our brains. The box is us.

SISO - the simple model
The SISO system philosophy

Then along came the Internet. The Internet gives Zero fucks if who writes (or talks, or looks to a camera and displays a sign) has been authorized and vetted to do so. Also, the internet gives Zero fucks if what gets put into it is true. The Internet is a database with a “SISO” attitude (see diagram for clarifications on SISO). Nobody is in charge anymore. Nobody is telling the system operators what messages they should broadcast for our little brains to absorb. On the internet, in social media, nobody is doing the fact checking (that supposedly gets done by other traditional media, right? Right? ).

Well, where does this brings us? To an interesting place. In 7 decades (less in some places, but still…) we have been trained to be a-critical and take whatever comes to us as truth. If it is out there and someone is screaming it from the top of their lungs from the box, they must have done some fact checking, right?

This is what has been ingrained into us.

Now, because we have been made incapable of performing fact checking on our own and we have put our inquisitive, critical minds (which is what makes us, us and not some form of hairless primate) on standby, some of the aforementioned self-proclaimed media gurus, worried (ex)politicians and (even more worried but yet non ex) “journalists” are scrambling to give us advice on how to spot fake news.

So the situation looks like we have been made drunk by making us binge consumers of controlled (selected) media, taking away from us the responsibility to check if stuff is true or not, and now the cure seems to be that we should listen some more, to the ones that tell us where to look to find the true truth. Not the false truth or the “i don’t really know ’cause I’ve not checked, but I like this other guy’s idea better because it benefits ME” truth.

So, we’re metaphorically drunk (because we are used to drink whatever gets handed to us without questioning) and the cure is to blindly accept yet some more drinks?

Are we alone in not seeing ANY logic in this? What if we started to do our own fact checking? What if we started to smell the drink, ask where it came from, question if it was from a sealed container, sip it slowly and watch what happens before committing to drink?

Why don’t they tell us THAT? Why don’t we tell us THAT? That is, how to know if something is bullshit or not…

But then we, the all singing, all dancing crap of the world would become a critical audience (no hyphen there), much harder to fool, more resilient to propaganda and influence. Advertisement might stop working. Politicians might be forced to keep their electoral promises.

So the cure is, please listen to us: The box can be no wrong. It does know. It uses big words. If it uses a word that becomes language.

Just pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

…er, box. We meant Box.

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Title image credits> English Oxford living dictionaries