Meme Wars: How the Fringe Conquered the Mainstream (Paperback)
With a New Foreword by Jeff Sharlet
From a masterful trio of media experts, "a thrilling, informative tale about our modern world that treats online influencers as the power brokers they literally are” (Taylor Lorenz, The Washington Post).
Memes have long been dismissed as inside jokes with no political importance. Nothing could be further from the truth. While the media and most politicians struggle to harness the organizing power of the internet, the “redpill right” weaponizes memes, pushing conspiracy theories and disinformation into the mainstream to drag people down the rabbit hole. These meme wars stir strong emotions, deepen partisanship, and get people off their keyboards and into the streets-and the steps of the US Capitol.
In Meme Wars, disinformation expert Joan Donovan, PhD, veteran tech journalist Emily Dreyfuss, and ethnographer Brian Friedberg pull back the curtain on the digital war rooms in which a vast collection of antiestablishmentarians bond over hatred of government and media. Together as a reactionary army, they use memes and social media to seek out new recruits, spread ideologies, and remake America according to their desires.
A political thriller with the substance of a rigorous history, Meme Wars is the astonishing story of how extremists are yanking our culture and politics to the right. And it's a warning that if we fail to recognize these powerful undercurrents, the great meme war for the soul of America will soon be won.
Emily Dreyfuss is a journalist who covers the intersection of society and technology; her writing has appeared in WIRED, The Atlantic, and The New York Times, among other publications.
Brian Friedberg is an ethnographer at Harvard Kennedy School, who researches far-right and political communities online and published definitive Qanon explainers in WIRED and The Hill. Together, the authors work on Harvard Kennedy School's Technology and Social Change Research Project out of Cambridge, Massachusetts.
“Convincing . . . for readers curious about the roles played by social media personalities who exploited online ecosystems and fueled existing social divisions . . . Meme Wars offers a great deal of insight.” —Science
“A punchy exploration about how alt-right blogs and forums burst into real life and how an elementary form of propaganda evolved from distasteful humor to a political ideology.” —Bloomberg
“Unearths a history of the internet that otherwise would have remained buried forever . . . a compelling case for redesigning global technologies to serve the public interest.” —Maria Ressa, winner of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize