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The Meme Effect and War

“People shouldn’t expect the mass media to do investigative stories. That job belongs to the ‘fringe’ media.” – Ted Koppel

It’s called the fog of war for a reason and yet it is with viciousness fortified by bias and outrage we witness the certain eagerness to kill thousands, if not millions. The media and officials have always been unreliable sources in the before and during a war, especially when public relations are a crucial weapon. Deception and lies, controlling the narrative and to simplify affairs into a good versus evil struggle is key. To dehumanise and alienate the foe, everything associated with them is the precursor for the acceptance to do genocide. The recent Israel-Palestine war has been another example of the many media outlets, government agencies and interested individuals hyping up the need for war and the alienation of peace.

Many pages have been written about the legacy media and state propaganda in regards to deception throughout history. The power of the media to influence events is ever apparent, in the early 1990s, it was called the ‘CNN Effect’, where 24-hour news coverage was capable of changing or massaging the public opinion on issues, creating villains and heroes. It is the cynical balance between loyalty to nation, party and state while providing a morbid entertainment that ensures profits and advertisement blocks in between the ‘news’ segments.

“Truth is the first casualty in war,” so goes the Aeschylus quote. The ancient Greek playwright’s words were correct then as they are now, only the speed in which lies and mutated truths travel are faster than he could ever have imagined. Journalistic integrity and media bias has been an issue that is a constant known for wary observers, during the peak of COVID messaging many grew sceptical with the fear and one sided narrative that was ‘allowed’ or pushed. To be questioning or dissenting was a pariah position, despite the many inconsistencies in official narrative. With a degree of irony, some of those who became social media celebrities because of such COVID wariness are now wrapped up in war fervour, emotionally or financially motivated to push simplified viewpoints, that lead to more bloodshed and harm of the innocent.

In the modern meme age it does not take much for one to generate images and apply captions, whether related or not does not matter. Videos from years prior and even those from movies, or in the case during the Russian-Ukrainian war, clips of gaming footage sold as war imagery, have been used to invent content. Modern social media fact checkers are not at this time capable of keeping up, besides who is doing the fact checking? Whether single or crowd sourced, fighting the instant lies with verified facts can be hard to manage at present. Prior fact checkers were less than reputable on certain issues, and had a tendency to lean into “accepted” narratives. To make false claims for clout or to push a lie, is easy. It is also a precedent set by those who claim to have ‘media standards’ and who are considered by many in the public as being, ‘trusted.’

Our relationship with information and facts has become so dysfunctional that gaming handles and avatars are more reliable and credible than educated, professionals and experts with degrees touted as celebrities of truth. The information and empirical experiences from common people the world over often trumps what we are being told from ‘officials’. Our ability to communicate directly with real human beings also allows us an insight info the complexity of the world. Reporters on the ground and capable analysts can also use social media to directly communicate, despite corporate and government editors. We have the information if we seek it, needing it to be boiled into a sentence or at best a paragraph as a meme or news splurt is not as in depth as complex events require. Especially when such information is the thread between human life and death.

The ability to generate artificial images and use deep fake technology is going to have a tremendous influence on our ability to disseminate and trust what we see and hear. Already fake audio has been applied to news crew footage, in an attempt to discredit mass media. This muddies the water when real trickery, manufactured or disingenuous reporting already exists. For example if a journalist claiming an IDF soldier told her that babies had been beheaded, goes viral without further confirmation. That should be considered sensational reporting or less than credible information. Then to have the Telegraph itself report that forty beheaded babies were found, from an IDF soldier as their source. In that same news piece, a sentence later to add, that they themselves could not verify the claim. Regardless The Telegraph published it as a headliner. The IDF itself has not verified the claim. It’s an age where the CNN effect is enhanced by both the corporate and memer accounts alike invent and spread misinformation or reactions and narrative.

Many claims are not verified because they feed into the frenzy of the moment, corroborating a desire for retaliation or to help maintain inertia. Even if that energy is not in support of a particular objective other than the excitement of the moment and for the cynical, profitability that such coverage brings. Plus being first is always more important than being correct. Outrage is crucial in order to validate retaliation, the greater the initial atrocity, the energy for vengeance can become unrestrained. Unfortunately, history will always provide redemption for the most powerful when they commit the atrocities, especially if such acts are done in the name of a righteous cause. Or as an act of brutal revenge.

The tragedy is that enough imagery and evidence of atrocities exist to already push a certain message. We can see the Israeli victims, they have the evidence of the innocent dead and suffering at the hands of Hamas. Those who wish to show the suffering and misery of the Palestinians, they too have plenty of footage and evidence at hand caused by the IDF. Those who are suffering and the innocent are linked by a common pain and torment that many who have power over them do not know or have perverted the suffering into an ideology where genocide is, in their minds, the only answer. The distant cheerleaders, far from pain and anguish throw cash and support into the hands of those who are already armed, and doing the deeds of torment. Validating the simplified objectives of extermination and pain, punishing the powerless and innocent individual. That is the tragedy, lies don’t need to be invented. The facts are already unbelievably terrible.

Modern technology allows the killers and tormentors to display the suffering of their victims directly to their families or the wider world. A cruel element of warfare that is streamed and uploaded with instant gore and with desperate fear to be viewed. While others may tease those suffering with clips of clean running water or steady electricity, a comfort anyone in a war zone or blockaded territory does not know. It is a war of unfiltered hatred and spiteful social media posts, petty and yet demented. In a recent piece, Caitlin Johnstone referred to it as “9:11 Brain”. The blunt hatred of reaction to an event, where retribution is not calculated and specific, instead is genocidal.

The information landscape is varied, a place of many opinions which take consideration and our own particular interests and bias to navigate. It takes a lot of fortitude to follow accounts and outlets that we often disagree or feel uncomfortable with. And while we may like the content from one source, we need to be aware that they may over time change their messaging or have human preferences in certain areas. To find a neutral or as honest as possible news source is difficult for those who are not experienced or savvy with social media and varying networks such as Telegram. Reliability and reputation is usually gained over time. When a body of work is on display and despite the fog of war and initial impulses in one direction, a sometimes contrarian or nuanced, perspective can be checked after the event, when more information comes to light. When sources are cited, rather than ‘I heard’, life is complicated, if something can be compressed and stripped of depth so that it’s so digestible then maybe it should be questioned.

The world is full of individuals, we should all understand this in our day to day interactions. We should be wary of memes or media that compress information and use the language of collectivism. Memes are supposed to be simplified, rarely to be taken seriously, often they inspire an instant response for those with little time for engagement. Like a wartime propaganda poster they are meant to express extremes and stereotype, to assure one singular objective. News bytes are much the same. If you as an individual want to boil down, generations of history, thousands of kilometres of land mass and millions of individuals into a sentence to define good and evil, maybe that is a condemnation of how you think. If a desperately crying babies life requires a meme or news-bit to determine whether you should care about it, then shame on you.

October, 2023

Published inAll Articles and EssaysPhilosophy, Society and LibertyWar, History and Foreign Policy