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The Power of Memes: Analyzing War-Time Messaging

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The Russia-Ukraine war has witnessed the emergence of new social media practices. The Ukrainian government, for one, has been using social media to crowdfund its armed forces and create an IT army charged with cyber-attacks against Russia. Yet the war has also seen the growing use of memes. Ukrainian diplomats and government ministries have published a host of memes depicting the bravery of Ukrainian soldiers or celebrating the leadership of President Zelensky.

Memes may be regarded as especially sophisticated rhetorical devices. Memes can deliver complex messages in a very concise form. Moreover, memes complement the internet’s sharing culture as messages may travel far and wide reaching diverse audiences. For memes to be successful, however, they must hold meaning to social media users with diverse backgrounds. For this reason, memes often incorporate popular culture be it films, TV shows or books. Finally, although memes hold shared meaning, they are still open to interpretation which only contributes to their popularity. The same meme can hold one meaning for people living in Western Europe and another for people living in ex-Soviet states.

Recently, I evaluated how official Ukrainian social media channels incorporate memes into their war-time messaging. This week I decided to evaluate war-related memes shared by a private account called “Ukrainian Memes Forces”. Launched in February 2022, the same month in which Russia invaded Ukraine the account’s stated goal is to be the “Source of the best Ukrainian memes”. The account has amassed an impressive following of 250,000 followers. Importantly, the account is followed by academics, journalists from leading publications, diplomats from a host of countries, communications advisers to world leaders and social media managers at multilateral institutions. The account’s memes may thus reach global elites, find their way into the mainstream press and serve as an example of how to incorporate memes into strategic communications. Indeed, the history of digital diplomacy shows that states and diplomats often mimic the behaviors they witness on social media.

For this post, I analyzed memes published by the Ukrainian Memes Forces. The name of the account speaks to its ultimate goal- to weaponize memes and use memes to shape how social media users make sense of the War in Ukraine. A review of 100 tweets published between June and August demonstrates their appeal. The average meme obtained 14,000 Likes, 2,000 Re-tweets and 91 comments. As was expected, many of the memes published by the account incorporated elements from popular culture including movies........

© The Times of Israel (Blogs)

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