Meme Warfare Can Influence Election Day: Here Is How To Protect Yourself

Image by Роман Распутин from Pixabay

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.

Example A:

Meme Warfare Example from Checkpoint Security

Example B:

Meme Warfare Example from Checkpoint Security

Example C:

Meme Warfare Example from Checkpoint Security

Example D:

Meme Warfare Example from Checkpoint Security

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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

  1. 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.
  2. Watch for bots. Often, bad actors create social media accounts that are really bots propagating disinformation.
  3. Verify information. Once you see a meme circulating, search and scan reputable media outlets that have done the diligence to confirm the information.

Headline Image by Роман Распутин from Pixabay

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Social Media: Help or Harm?

The way that social media adjusts its algorithms can have a tremendous impact on the public debate.

The term “echo chamber” is already in common usage, describing how we self select into groups or channels of media consumption that reflect our own beliefs, reinforcing them, whether right or wrong, and filtering out any opposing views.

So to increase “engagement,” does that “outrage factory” Twitter only feed us more of what it thinks we already believe?

Does Youtube only show us more videos like the one we just watched and “liked?”

Does Facebook show Antifa more Antifa, and Proud Boys more Proud Boys?

The danger of social media, as well as 24 hour 700 channel cable is that it distorts our perception that our often niche, sometimes kook view of the world is some objective reality. An MSNBC junkie thinks “all reasonable people are democratic socialists” or a OneAmerica addict thinks that “our party and our politicians are ordained by God, thus we must ‘walk by faith’ and support them unconditionally.”


Do humanists see religious viewpoints (and vice versa)?

Do capitalists see socialist viewpoints?
Do Democrats see Republican viewpoints?

Remember, open-mindedness isn’t agreeing with the opposing viewpoint, but rather an openness to understanding it. This is an intellectual version of the emotional trait called empathy.

My fear is that net empathy, along with intelligence is decreasing, as we are fed artificial-intelligence driven iterations of ever narrower versions of what we want to hear: these new media organs, computer controlled (while the computers are programmed and controlled by flawed, biased, clueless humans) algorithms say “he likes that politician, give him more just like that! He likes that preacher, give him more just like that!

After all, it drives “engagement.” 

Yeah. But what about critical thinking? Empathy? Compassion? The notion that you and your tribe just might not hold a monopoly on “truth?”

For all practical purposes, social media didn’t exist ten years ago. Only people in the future will be able to tell if this is as impactful to history as the Gutenberg press, or like CB Radio (A good portion of readers will have no idea what this even was!) something whose time had come–and gone.

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay 
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