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‘Meme Wars’ co-author explains how memes can foment extremism

Bloomsbury Publishing
Joan Donovan
Joan Donovan is a co-author of "Meme Wars: The Untold Story of the Online Battles Upending Democracy in America."

Simple, usually stupid but often funny, memes have become an iconic component of the internet.

A meme is, essentially, a picture with an entertaining caption that is shared online. While they originated long before the internet, some experts argue, today, memes are ubiquitous in social media. Many memes, of course, are benign or silly, but memes can, and often do, spread misinformation, lies and hate.

In a new book, one author argues that memes "are the bedrock strategy" of some conspiracists and charts how bigotry and racism transitioned from obscure corners of the internet to "diffused coalitions of true believers" that, for example, helped spark the Capitol insurrection.

We sit down with a co-author and media expert to understand the “digital war rooms” where many extremist ideas formed, then went mainstream.


Joan Donovan, research director of Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center, co-author of “Meme Wars: The Untold Story of the Online Battles Upending Democracy in America”

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Jesse Steinmetz is Producer of Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins. Before joining WFAE in 2019, he was an intern at WNPR in Hartford, Connecticut and hosted a show at Eastern Connecticut State University.