Weaponizing Memes: The Journalistic Mediation of Visual Politicization

Chris Peters*, Stuart Allan

*Corresponding author

Publikation: Bidrag til tidsskriftTidsskriftartikelForskningpeer review


This article develops the concept of “mimetic weaponization” for theory-building. Memes recurrently serve as identificatory markers of affiliation across social media platforms, with ensuing controversies potentially proving newsworthy. Our elaboration of weaponization refers to the purposeful deployment of memetic imagery to disrupt, undermine, attack, resist or reappropriate discursive positions pertaining to public affairs issues in the news. For alt-right memetic conflicts, impetuses range from “sharing a joke” to promoting “alternative facts,” rebuking “political correctness” or “wokeness,” defending preferred framings of “free speech,” or signalling cynicism, distrust or dissent with “mainstream” media, amongst other drivers. Of particular import, we argue, is the politics of othering at stake, including in the wider journalistic mediation of a meme’s public significance. Rendering problematic this contested process, this article focuses on Pepe the Frog as an exemplar, showing how and why variations of this mimetic cartoon have been selectively mobilized to help normalize – ostensibly through humour, parody or satire – rules of inclusion and exclusion consistent with hate-led agendas. Digital journalism, we conclude, must improve its capacity to identify and critique mimetic weaponization so as to avoid complicity in perpetuating visceral forms of prejudice and discrimination so often presented as “just a bit of fun.”
TidsskriftDigital Journalism
Udgave nummer2
Sider (fra-til)217-229
Antal sider13
StatusUdgivet - 2022

Bibliografisk note

Important note from the publisher: “This is an Accepted Manuscript version of the following article, accepted for publication in Digital Journalism. Chris Peters & Stuart Allan (2022) Weaponizing Memes: The Journalistic Mediation of Visual Politicization, Digital Journalism, 10:2, 217-229, DOI: 10.1080/21670811.2021.1903958 . It is deposited under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/), which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.”


  • Memes
  • civic engagement
  • digital news ecology
  • editorialization
  • imagery
  • mimetic weaponization
  • visual politics

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