Memecry: Tracing the Repetition-with-Variation of Formulas on 4chan/pol/

31 Pages Posted: 16 Nov 2022

See all articles by Sal Hagen

Sal Hagen

University of Amsterdam - Department of Media Studies

Tommaso Venturini

Centre Internet et Société CNRS

Date Written: August 7, 2022

Abstract

Like their genetic counterparts, memes are supposed to embody in culture the two main forces of Darwinian evolution: replication and mutation. These two functions, however, have not received equal scholarly attention, particularly as concerns the most popular and studied type of memes: Internet memes. While the circulation of these texts, images, and videos across online spaces has become a favourite object of computational social sciences, the study of their transformation through time remains scant. In this paper, we introduce the notion of ‘memecry’ to conceptualise the dynamics of repetition-with-variation of Internet memes. We propose a large-scale operationalisation using 341 million posts made since 2014 on /pol/, the far-right politics subforum of the imageboard 4chan. We draw from literature on primary and secondary orality to relate memecry to the dynamics of online subcultures and to operationalise its study through formulas: mnemonic phrases encapsulating important elements of oral cultures, which have arguably regained prominence in ephemeral online environments like 4chan. While Internet memes have often been studied as single images or words, the phrases provide a more complex unit of analysis which allows investigating variation and not only circulation. We offer a quali-quantitative protocol to identify formulas and map their memecry. Finally, we apply our protocol to the 4chan/pol/ archive, visualising the spread and variability of 65 prominent formulas. By discussing several cases, we demonstrate how 4chan can indeed be seen as a secondary oral culture and how the memecry of its formulas is entwined with a subcultural struggle for distinction.

Keywords: memecry, memes, oral culture, formulas, 4chan, /pol/

Suggested Citation

Hagen, Sal and Venturini, Tommaso, Memecry: Tracing the Repetition-with-Variation of Formulas on 4chan/pol/ (August 7, 2022). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4225709 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4225709

Sal Hagen (Contact Author)

University of Amsterdam - Department of Media Studies ( email )

Netherlands

Tommaso Venturini

Centre Internet et Société CNRS ( email )

59-61 rue Pouchet
PARIS, 75849
France

HOME PAGE: http://www.cis.cnrs.fr

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