Cloaked in White Supremacy: Steps We Can Take to Mitigate the Reach of Harmful Far-Right Memes
Previous installments in this series primarily engage with how the far-right uses coded language to spread harmful ideologies through sharing memes. These installments highlighted the importance of being critical of our online content consumption and taking a step back to think about the potential harm and hidden messages we may encounter daily.
Violent memes are created carefully, and their true meanings are disguised as seemingly harmless ‘humorous’ mainstream references. As explained previously, a major tactic being utilized by the far-right on these “freedom channels” was the creation of abstract depictions of violence. Rather than explicitly depicting violence, these memes tended to convey the thought or idea of causing physical harm rather than directly suggesting an action.
Of course, this is not always the case. Some memes are more explicit with their calls to violence. These types of memes openly promote and display serious or deathly violence towards targeted groups, such as the LGTBQ2+ and/or BIPOC communities, and can also extend their attack to politicians, journalists, and those they believe to be a threat to their values. These types of violent memes make little or no effort to conceal their intended message: that there are groups of people whom they – the far right – believe are unwelcome in society and believe should be eliminated.
While these types of memes are more easily detectable than those that disguise themselves, it is equally important that we address the harm these memes can do and the messages they send.
Over the past 12 months – though this has been an issue for much longer than that – we have seen more attention being drawn to the harassment and threats of violence towards women, and racialized journalists by the far-right. As more women speak on these issues and tweet out screenshots of hate mail they receive, it is becoming more important that we work to aid in the mitigation of these forms of harassment.
One area that we can start on is working to prevent the spread of violent memes that openly glorify or attempt to normalize physical and sexual violence towards real people under the veneer of being “just a joke”. This is not always the case, and many of the journalists who shared their stories of harassment did so through posting private messages and emails they received. However, as violent memes circulate far-right spaces and normalize this type of behavior, it is becoming more essential for us to mitigate the spread of these ideas before users believe that harassing female journalists and other marginalized groups is somehow appropriate.
Within these “freedom channels” specifically, I saw a pattern. Anytime that attention was drawn towards the Freedom Convoy – whether it be about the movement itself, their beliefs towards the COVID-19 vaccine, or mandates implemented by the Canadian Government – the result was anger. This anger often resulted in spreading memes in these telegram channels and primarily targeted those reporting on the issue. In many cases, Telegram users within these “freedom channels” used explicitly violent memes to target those they believed to be “brainwashed” or “having a Liberal agenda” while simultaneously spreading anti-vaccine narratives and other forms of far-right propaganda.
As this content spreads outside these Telegram channels and attempts to move to more mainstream platforms, we need to consider the actions we can take, and social obligations we have, to mitigate the spread of these harmful ideas.
The first step – the one highlighted throughout this series – is to be critical of the content we are consuming online. Being critical of the content we consume is extremely important – not all information that we consume is accurate, trustworthy, or free of biases. There are those out there who aim to spread misinformation and purposely mislead audiences into normalizing harmful ideologies, and/or normalizing violence toward specific groups of people. By being aware of the potentially harmful ideas within the content we consume, we can decide on an appropriate response and work to protect others against the spread of misinformation, racism, and other forms of hate.
These next steps may seem straightforward for most, but we must act when we see these violent memes in social media feeds. Do not share memes that explicitly direct violence toward people; instead, report it. This does not always provide the solution we want, as most social media have their own method of determining what is and is not inappropriate on their platform. Though it is still worth trying and bringing attention to a moderation team.
The next step I recommend depends on your personal safety. If it is safe to do so, speak out against the harm that these images are causing – like those journalists who openly shared their experiences with far-right harassment. Speaking out on these issues and using your social media platform – if you are safe and comfortable to do so – to educate others on why such content is harmful can work to lessen the impact and harm that far-right memes can post.
Finally, take care of yourself. Seeing violent content – regardless of its form – can be burdensome and difficult to handle on your own. Do not be afraid to seek support from trusted friends, family members, colleagues, or anyone else in your life if needed.
These steps will unfortunately not solve the issue at hand, but they can be used to help mitigate the reach that the far-right has on social media platforms.