Over time, internet memes have grown beyond the jokes and humorous cultural artefacts of once fringe online communities. Nowadays, they’ve become so widespread as to be a self-reinforcing genre of online communication, and they have therefore been the subject or increasing scrutiny and study, both in academia and in popular media sources. Although the process of how internet memes disseminate information can be applied to both positive and negative information, the efficiency through which they can spread information has made them the ideal vehicles for bad faith actors to use them to spread misinformation. Misinformation-carrying and offensive memes have, as well, contributed to the radicalization of people. Through informational overload inherent to Web 2.0, ideologically harmful internet memes may have also played a role in the normalization of extreme, previously fringe ideologies. There is a lack of quantitative experimental research into the extent to which harmful (racist, for example) internet memes can lead viewers to later consider that same harmful ideological position as more normal than if they hadn’t been first exposed to it through memes. Overexposure to a harmful ideology through memes could be theorized to prime people into being more accepting of more extreme forms of prejudice later, although one’s level of knowledge and literacy in ‘internet meme language’ could inoculate them against this negative effect. This study attempts to demonstrate this normalizing effect, but ultimately fails to do so, in part due to the relatively small sample being insufficient to achieve statistically significant results. Although this study’s results lack significance, the theoretical background and how it motivates the study design could prove to have value, and would benefit from being replicated on a larger scale, with more respondents.

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Goncalves, J.
Media, Culture & Society
Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication

Koutonias, Nicolas. (2020, October). Weaponized Meta-Memetics: Measuring the Effectiveness of Internet Memes as Ideological Propaganda. Media, Culture & Society. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/2105/57259