Fall 2020 Conflict Series - Inside Jokes to IRL: How Bad Actors Use Viral Memes to Incite Real-World Violence

Co-presented by the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU Law School, the Center for Global Affairs at NYU's School for Professional Studies, The Program in International Relations at NYU's GSAS, the Robert L. Bernstein Institute for Human Rights, and the Office of International Programs at NYU Wagner

12:30pm - 1:30pm EDT
September 29, 2020
12:30pm - 1:30pm

Each Tuesday, the Conflict, Security, and Development Series will examine new research, discuss creative policy approaches, and highlight recent innovations in responding to the challenges of security and development in conflict and post-conflict situations.


In a 2009 report on “Memetic Warfare,” DARPA claimed that memes have the power to change individual and group values and behavior, enhance dysfunctional subcultures, and act as a contagion. At first glance, it seems outlandish that a meme could have such influence, as they are typically used to share ideas, banter, and produce inside jokes with your group. In recent years, however, memes have become one of the most popular means of communication and are becoming – what some consider - the new frontier of information warfare.

Memes were and still are generated and amplified by Russian troll farms to influence US presidential elections and further our divisions. Political actors across the spectrum leverage memes to win hearts and minds. On 4chan and 8chan, anti-Semitic, racist, misogynistic memes are crowd-sourced and often seep into mainstream social media platforms. Many on sub-cultural fringe platforms, like the chans, tactfully deploy memes that glorify mass shootings – and now, mass shootings have become a meme. Recently, militias have leveraged the 2020 turmoil, generating memes and content to incite violent action.

Drawing on the works of the Network Contagion Research Institute, Alex Goldenberg will demonstrate how bad actors leverage viral memes to hijack the narrative and incite real-world violence.

NYU Wagner provides reasonable accommodations to people with disabilities. Requests for accommodations for events and services should be submitted at least two weeks before the date of the accommodation need. Please email wagner.international@nyu.edu or call 212.998.7400 for assistance.
Conflict Series