A groundbreaking investigation into the digital underworld, where far-right operatives wage wars against mainstream America, from a masterful trio of experts in media and tech.
Memes have long been dismissed as inside jokes with no political importance. Nothing could be further from the truth. Memes are bedrock to the strategy of conspiracists such as Alex Jones, provocateurs like Milo Yiannopoulos, white nationalists like Nick Fuentes, and tacticians like Roger Stone. While the media and most politicians struggle to harness the organizing power of the internet, the "redpill right" weaponizes memes, pushing conspiracy theories and disinformation into the mainstream to drag people down the rabbit hole. These meme wars stir strong emotions, deepen partisanship, and get people off their keyboards and into the streets--and the steps of the US Capitol.
Meme Wars is the first major account of how "Stop the Steal" went from online to real life, from the wires to the weeds. Leading media expert Joan Donovan, PhD, veteran tech journalist Emily Dreyfuss, and cultural ethnographer Brian Friedberg pull back the curtain on the digital war rooms in which a vast collection of antiesablishmentarians bond over hatred of liberal government and media. Together as a motley reactionary army, they use memes and social media to seek out new recruits, spread ideologies, and remake America according to their desires.
A political thriller with the substance of a rigorous history, Meme Wars is the astonishing story of how extremists are yanking our culture and politics to the right. And it's a warning that if we fail to recognize these powerful undercurrents, the great meme war for the soul of America will soon be won.
Internet subcultures have transformed U.S. politics and hijacked collective discourse, according to this informative survey. Sociologist Donovan, journalist Dreyfuss, and ethnographer Friedberg document how the speed, connectivity, and algorithmic sorting of the internet created alternative media ecosystems in which self-described "digital soldiers" propagated sexist, racist, and antisemitic ideologies. When this loosely affiliated antiestablishment movement—dubbed the "red-pilled right" by the authors—transformed their online appeals into insurgent actions in the real world, they garnered news coverage that generated more online reactions and further plans for action. These "meme wars" are accelerated and amplified by a communications infrastructure that prioritizes sensationalism over accuracy, facilitates community building, has a low barrier to entry, and offers few consequences for participation in fringe discourse. The authors examine these dynamics at play on 4chan's Politically Incorrect message board, the misogynist blogs of the "manosphere," and other "safe spaces for hate"; they also detail lessons learned by the alt-right from the Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter movements, document the origins of QAnon, and contend that a "steady diet" of "mimetic warfare" culminated in the January 6 Capitol riot. Clear-eyed and persuasive, this is an alarming look at how internet culture has imperiled democracy. Photos.