BLM protesters weaponising memes against police

The weaponisation of memes is nothing new, but taking on anti-racism has to be its biggest and most significant engagement to date. 

Digital natives Gen Z are constantly shifting the parameters of political demonstration and discourse to include online spaces. Now a part of our everyday vernacular, memes are used to make light of serious subjects, to highlight hypocrisies or irony within current affairs, and generally to cause a bit of a circus online for the entertainment of the millions of daily users.  

While often playful in spirit, this lobbying by everyday people is becoming increasingly powerful and is having serious real-world impact right now. With the Black Lives Matter movement growing in the US and UK every day, online communities are banding together to ensure that police efforts to control, and in some cases undermine, the protests are futile. It may sound a little dramatic, but we’re seeing all the hallmarks of a digital revolution… one where Tay Zonday, Rick Astley and Squirtle are public symbols of liberation. 

Armed with a strange hodgepodge of internet culture, people are executing a multi-pronged digital attack on anti-black content and police surveillance. Here’s what we’ve seen thus far. 

 
Hijacking hashtags 

We’re more than familiar with this kind of thing. People grandstanding and adopting popular hashtags to chase clout, or people getting confused and irate about a subject they haven’t quite grasped. Either way, a hashtag’s original purpose is often diluted with irrelevant content, and that can become a frustrating thing. 

However, it’s a rare and often hilarious phenomenon when people come together to deliberately hijack an unsavoury hashtag. And that’s what we’re seeing with anti-black tweets. This week, white supremacists attempted to get ‘#WhiteLivesMatter’ trending on Twitter, and if you look right now it’s doing just that. But bigots won’t love the reason why. 

Search the hashtag, and you’ll see it’s populated almost entirely by K-pop fancams, Black Lives Matter support pages, and general trolling at the expense of these racist individuals. There’s next to nothing in the way of xenophobic rhetoric. It’s worth pointing out that this paradoxical virality will likely keep #WhiteLivesMatter trending for a while, but the category of the hashtag is now denoted by ‘Music’ and ‘Kpop’ within Twitter’s algorithm, rendering its original message redundant. 

Similarly, #BlueLivesMatter – normally a pro-police advocacy tag – is awash with gifs of Sonic, Squirtle, Smurfs, and a whole ensemble of fictional characters denoted by their blue faces. If you want to get lost down a rabbit hole today, this is the place to go. I was literally crying of laughter earlier.


Police derailment 

Seeing as the whole BLM movement was sparked by a sickening case of police brutality, protesters aren’t too sweet on the idea that police presence at these rallies is intended for their own protection, and the notion of assisting police with arrests is so out of the question it’s frankly insulting. 

That didn’t stop the Dallas Police Department playing with fire late last month. On Twitter, @DallasPD called on the public to download their ‘iWatch’ app and provide anonymous tips about illegal activity occurring during the protests. As you’d expect, that went down like a lead balloon. 

In the hours that followed the post, an influx of K-pop fancams flooded the report system, forcing the Dallas PD to temporarily close its app due to ‘technical difficulties’. Similar initiatives from police forces in Kirkland, Washington, and Michigan got the same treatment. 

The boldest counter-strike came in Chicago, where protesters managed to ‘jam’ the entire police radio system by playing N.W.A’s ‘F*ck The Police’, and the YouTube classic ‘Chocolate Rain’. The city of Chicago has since launched an investigation into the incident.


Rick Rolling for good 

I’m old enough to recall the origin of this hoax, probably because that dreaded ‘Never Gonna Give you Up’ drum riff landed me hours in detention trying to shut the damn music video off. But today, Rick Rolling has become a much broader concept.  

When we talk about Rick Rolling someone, it refers to the deception of luring them to click a link with an eye-catching headline or setup, only to send them to something completely unrelated. Today, it can be literally anything. Rick Astley rarely rears his ginger quiff in 2020. 

Protesters have started using this trick to coax people into Twitter threads promising juicy celebrity gossip, only to send them to donation pages for the BLM movement, and it really works. One story titled ‘How Jay Z ruined Beyonce’s and Rihanna’s friendship’ sent over 240,000 users to a George Floyd family fund, and a dramatic headline involving Glee’s Lea Michele sent over 50,000 to several split donation funds. 

This method is a little shady and may frustrate a few people, granted, but the ends more than justify the means. Not only is it a great way of driving traffic to important causes, it’s a healthy reminder to people that important things are happening right now, and we shouldn’t be getting bogged down in trivial matters. 

Admittedly, it would be a push to suggest this kind of digital mischief will be enough to bring about widespread change on its own. But equally, you cannot deny its effectiveness in amplifying messages and engendering a sense of solidarity on a global scale.

Protesters in the streets will ultimately win the fight, but social media has become a great weapon to add to their arsenal.  

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