Beware Behavioral Memes

On Twitter and Facebook and throughout the Internet there are folks that want to spread memes for business and governmental purposes. But the memes aren’t just things like, “Vlad can has borschtburger.” They are also behavioral or attitudinal memes.

Behavioral memes aren’t funny little pictures with captions. They are how people respond. For example, in political discussions I often see people saying that a scandal won’t matter, that the bad leaders can get away with anything. I’m not claiming that attitude is intentionally used to subvert discussion, but it is an attitudinal meme.

Behavioral memes spread ideas about how we communicate online. They say, “This is all hopeless,” even if they agree that we need good governance and that democracy is worth far more than the trouble it causes. Cynicism against any possible solution is the general shape of these behavioral memes.

Or they might say, “Seeing a bully get her comeuppance is enjoyable.” Or that punching down is edgy.

It’s not just about the online spread of falsified reporting. It’s equally about the spread of how we act and respond online. Whether it’s creating cynicism where solutions existed or driving people away from participating in productive discussions or distracting them into debating Bill Clinton in the 1990s instead of the matters of the day, there are ways aplenty of harming online discourse.

The Internet can grow and change, and if people are not behaving productively where you are, you can either find somewhere else, or create a new space of your own. Spread out. As in actual warzones, it’s difficult to target people the farther apart they are. Every new platform that artificial participants have to add to their influence operations costs them more time and money.

If you see the same kinds of replies, whatever the news, consider the attitude and question if it’s a useful one. It doesn’t matter if they are APs or not. The productivity of behavioral memes is independent of who is spreading them, just as with caption memes.