How Memes Became Weapons in the Culture Wars

Internet memes seem harmless enough. A few pictures of cats with some grammatically incorrect text—what could go wrong? Well, memes have come a long way since the early days of the internet. For more than a decade, memes have been deployed as a weapon in culture wars. And they’re even more persuasive than most people realize. A well-placed meme on somebody’s social media timeline can lead them down a rabbit hole of radicalization, misinformation, and extremism.

This week on Gadget Lab, we talk with Emily Dreyfuss, a senior editor at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy about how memes have shaped politics and culture.

Show Notes

Read more about all kinds of disinformation at Harvard Shorenstein Center’s Media Manipulation Casebook. Read Angela Watercutter’s story about the Bernie Sanders mittens memes.


Emily recommends that you look up what happens to an artichoke if you let it flower, and also American Nations by Colin Woodard. Mike recommends r/random, which takes you to a different subreddit everytime you click. Lauren recommends the HBO show White Lotus.

Emily Dreyfuss can be found on Twitter @EmilyDreyfuss. Lauren Goode is @LaurenGoode. Michael Calore is @snackfight. Bling the main hotline at @GadgetLab. The show is produced by Boone Ashworth (@booneashworth). Our theme music is by Solar Keys.

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