If you use Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp or any other social media platform, you’ve likely encountered them: internet memes. These pithy, shareable, and often fun, units of culture have given people an entirely new way to visually convey their beliefs.
The term “meme” originates from the Greek words “mimema”, meaning “that which is imitated”. And today, memes live up to their name. They top the list of the most rapidly copied forms of media, often taking the shape of images, text, video – or a combination of all three.
Memes are clearly powerful. A single meme can spark a cultural movement. Although fun and playful, there is, however, a darker side to memes. A single meme can sway an election. The truth is that memes embody the latest form for propaganda. For example, in the 2016 US presidential election, many memes were made by a Russian troll farm to influence the outcome.
Five days away from the US elections, voters everywhere should understand what cybersecurity experts call “meme warfare”, and how it could influence the upcoming US election.
Enter Meme Warfare
Meme Warfare is a term that refers to using memes as individual weapons of information warfare. The primary goal of meme warfare is to influence or shape public opinion, and therefore informing human behavior. The internet has ushered in an era when deception can be perpetrated on a mass scale. Below are a few examples of meme warfare.
Implications of Meme Warfare on Election Day
On Election Day, meme warfare has the potential to make a significant impact. Security experts at Check Point outline two possible scenarios in how meme warfare can play a role on Nov 3.
- Uncertainty of results. Memes claim a candidate has won a state or the entire election, when in fact it’s not true. This has the potential to dissuade voters from voting if they think the election is determined.
- Claims of foreign interference. Memes begin circulating that Russia or Iran meddled into the election, when in fact it’s not true.
How to Stay Protected
- Bring awareness to others. Teach your friends and family about meme warfare and to be slow to trust the claims of memes, as they could be purported by bad actors.
- Watch for bots. Often, bad actors create social media accounts that are really bots propagating disinformation.
- Verify information. Once you see a meme circulating, search and scan reputable media outlets that have done the diligence to confirm the information.