When you’re being manipulated by online memes

Olivier Blanchard offers analysis of a manipulative meme:

Chances are that you have seen this meme floating around, especially around elections. It isn’t what you think it is. It is not a friendly digital handshake. It isn’t meant to help neighbors mend fences. It is a deliberate instrument of psychological manipulation.

Image may contain: meme and text

I have seen that meme, and cordially hated it.

I worked in Marketing for nearly two decades. I know this kind of device when I see it. Let me explain.

1. The image
Note the childlike simplicity of the image, the super basic smiling face. The finger pointing up at it. The open posture. The baby-like head. What part of the brain is this image stimulating? It looks like the kind of flip card used in psychological tests, right? Or something from a children’s book. Why do you think that is? What emotions is this image designed to instantly trigger?

That’s one reason I hated it I think, without pausing to analyze it. First I found the message completely stupid and wrong, and then I hated the cutesie innocent because cutesie doesn’t cancel out stupid and wrong so fuck off. Not sophisticated, but it does the job.

But analysis is good so let’s read more of the analysis.

2. The message
Now note the subtlety of the message, layered over the image: I’m the adult. You’re the child. Also note the cleverly toned-down passive-aggressive scolding, the peer pressure at the root of it. (You want to be an adult too, right? Don’t you want to be a grown-up?)

And that “that’s called” thing too. It’s a kind of woke-style bullying that I’ve grown allergic to. No, that’s not called being an adult, and who made you the boss of what’s adult anyway so fuck off. It always comes back to the fuck off.

4. Accountability avoidance
It makes you (the “child”) feel guilty and “bad” for holding someone (the “adult”) accountable for their harmful actions.

It also changes the subject from an objective harmful action (voting for a divisive, hate-filled, or antidemocratic agenda, for instance) to the subjective realm of “being friends” and the emotional safety that comes from preserving social bonds.

And it jumps right over the substantive issue. It treats fundamental differences in values as trivial when they’re nothing of the kind.

The purpose of this meme and others like it is to normalize malicious political views and suppress pushback, using guilt, confusion, and social pressure as subconscious levers of control. It is not designed to bring people together regardless of their political views. That is not its purpose.

Learn to spot when you’re being manipulated by online memes.

PS: Whatever “side” you may be on, and whatever your politics may be, if you’re sharing this meme, either you’ve been had, or your penchant for gaslighting is showing.

Despite how unsophisticated it looks, this is one of the best ones I’ve seen.

No worries; I never shared that nasty thing. But I enjoyed the analysis anyway.

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