Watch that meme!

Take a look at the image below. It has been reposted thousands of times on social media.
Jon Cooper 🇺🇸 on Twitter: "Yo, Mister White Racist. If I was you ...

Notice anything odd about it? Perhaps if you are good at sight proofreading, you might catch that the words accommodate and illegals are both misspelled. Now let me ask you another question: where do you think this picture would be posted? On accounts from right-wingers? Perhaps, but it was also posted on leftist accounts as well, with words about “look how idiotic these other guys are.” Sad to say, both sides are getting played: according to Internet researcher Renee DiResta, the image was created by the state-sponsored Russian trolls at the Internet Research Agency. It was carefully crafted to inflame both sides of the political spectrum and as a result was very popular a few months ago.

When we receive items like this in our news feeds, the natural reaction is to click and forward it on to a thousand of our closest Internet friends. But what this small example shows you is to stop and think about what you are doing. That meme could travel around the world in a few seconds, and end up more likely hurting your cause. How many of us have gotten some major bombshell (such as Fox News’ John Roberts saying the Covid virus was a hoax), only to find out from Snopes and other fact-checking places that we were misled.

Indeed, if you do an image search on the “foreign language” patch above, you will likely see a number of different versions: some with the correct word spellings, some with corrections with red overlays, and some with different borders and other small differences. What this shows me is how effective this patch was, and how insidious was its purpose at sowing dissent.

I wrote an earlier post about how to vet your news feed earlier this year. Take a moment to re-read it if you need a reminder along with some tips on how to evaluate potentially fake images and other propaganda. Earlier in April, WhatsApp put a limit on how often viral messages can be forwarded: just to a single person (it used to be five people). That helps, but the social platforms could do a lot more to screen for these abuses.

About ten years ago, I ended one of my columns with the following advice. Watch out for those memes, and take a breath before clicking. You might save yourself some embarrassment, and also not get played by some troll. Some things sadly never change.

4 thoughts on “Watch that meme!

  1. Thank you, David. I am going to share this with all my friends, if that’s okay with you. We’re all guilty of indulging in us vs them memes. Like eating poisoned candy.

  2. > I wrote an earlier post about how to vet your news feed earlier this year.

    The best way to vet your news feed is to turn the damn thing off. Then invest the time you’ve been wasting incessantly following “the news” and go read a book.

    The only “news” I’ve received for the past two years has been curated/forwarded to me by trusted friends over email. Yes, some fraction of this is propaganda and bullshit, usually easy to detect. When I receive bullshit from someone I trust I whack them upside the head and tell them not to send me any more. If they persist I stop trusting them and install a filter that throws their email directly into the garbage.

    Problem solved.

    Now, you ask, am I less “informed” than people glued to the CNN-FOX-NYT-WaPo-Facebook-Twitter sell your eyeballs to advertisers machine? I contend I am a lot less misinformed. And the handful of articles forwarded to me each day are plenty to keep track of what’s going on. Meanwhile, the 100 books I’ve read since I went dark two years ago, cancelled all my “news” subscriptions, and got off Social Media have left me with a much richer perspective about what is going on as I watch the human race go insane.

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