You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

For Crimea, Dangerous Memes (And The Listicles to Combat Them)

BY Jessica McKenzie | Tuesday, March 11 2014

Because this definitely happened! (Global Voices)

Could memes be making the situation in Crimea worse?

A recent opinion piece in the New York Times bemoans our collective tendency in the digital age to de-contextualize ideas in our haste to push them out in digital bursts, be it tweet, meme or listicle.

The author argues that we have become “link zombies” in order to “shortcut actual thought.” A recent debate over the value of “apocalypsticles” began with a journalist writing that listicles allow us to “look at Ukraine without seeing Ukraine.”

These conversations are framed as a problem resulting from the decline of Western media (and media consumers)—as newspapers fold and Buzzfeed and other less established media outlets rise to take their place—and the main complaint seems to be that journalism is getting worse, flooded as it is by digital fluff.

However, the dangers of de-contextualized information are not a problem of the West alone, and the effects are not limited to watered-down journalism. A Global Voices contributor has collected 15 memes floating around the Russian Internet that he says are aggravating the Crimean crisis.

Andrey Tselikov writes:

Instead of trying to find some sort of compromise, the sides of an online disagreement double down on their arguments, quickly moving to threats, ad hominem attacks, and comparisons to Hitler. The disagreement turns into a flame-war, both sides convinced the opponent is stupid and/or disingenuous. Sound familiar? Sadly, this is what is happening on the RuNet with regard to the Crimean conflict. Memes and image macros lend themselves to polarizing rhetoric, not nuanced argument. But, hey, some of them are pretty funny!

Several of the memes mock the idea that the Russian troops in Crimea are just tourists. Others use satirical hashtags referencing #euromaidan. Another places Vladimir Putin in front of a Nazi flag. There is also a picture of a bloodthirsty Obama chewing on a map of Eastern Europe.

These memes tilt dangerously close to propaganda territory (perhaps understandably so, since the Russian media is flooding media channels with false information, and the U.S. Department of State issued its own listicle in response: “President Putin's Fiction: 10 False Claims About Ukraine”).

Just something to chew on the next time you want to complain about Buzzfeed using GIFs of “The Hills” to explain Putin invading Crimea.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

For a round-up of our weekly stories, subscribe to the WeGov mailing list.