The Memetic Engineering of Anonymous, the Cyberterrorist Group

The Memetic Engineering of Anonymous, the Cyberterrorist Group

Thomas Woolford (Nicholson School of Communication, University of Central Florida, Sanford, FL, USA) and Jonathan Matusitz (Seminole State College, University of Central Florida, Sanford, USA)
Copyright: © 2011 |Pages: 9
DOI: 10.4018/ijcwt.2011100101
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Abstract

This paper applies the theory of memetic engineering to a cyberterrorist group: Anonymous. Anonymous was created on the Internet and is a decentralized community that has no leaders. Memetic engineering, a theoretical concept developed by Richard Dawkins (1976), posits that memes (units of cultural transmission) are diffused through cultural channels (e.g., traditional media, social networking sites, etc.) to infect minds that, in turn, will replicate those memes themselves. Memetic engineering is about memetic replication. Memes can be anything from smiley faces to evil ideas. Members of Anonymous operate in (online) disguise and have been known to transmit terrorist memes through online channels such as imageboards, chatrooms, and even YouTube videos.
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The Theory Of Memetic Engineering

Memetic engineering rests on the premise that humans communicate by using “memes.” A theoretical concept invented by Richard Dawkins (1976), a meme is an object that is culturally transmitted. Memetic engineering has to do with the diffusion of ideas or innovations. It is a way to transmit those ideas or innovations within a culture (and to other cultures as well). It is a mode of cultural transmission (Robertson, 2011). Memes pass from culture to culture and can even pass from generation to generation (Shifman, 2011; Young, 2005). An example of a meme would be a smiley face. It is culturally recognized and has been around since the 1960s. According to Matusitz (2011),

Anyone who knows what a smiley is can copy, reproduce, or alter it and then show it to other people. A meme is any unit of information – such as an idea, concept, or movement – which one mind diffuses (verbally or by demonstration) to another mind. (p. 231)

These ideas can be far greater than smiley faces as well. They can be anything from manifestos, theatrical productions, television shows, Fox News network, CNN, and Facebook. All of these are culturally transmitted. When memes are passed on, there is retention of some of the ideas in those memes. To be more precise, some or all parts of the original meme must be retained for us to replicate or reproduce it in real life. Memes, then, act as replicators (Blackmore, 2000).

Memes can be diffused in two ways: vertically or horizontally. Vertical transmission is a hierarchal transmission in which parents teach it to children or leaders teach it to followers. Horizontal transmission happens in one generation and is socially transmitted. It is cultural sharing (Arakji & Lang, 2010). In order for a meme to replicate, it needs to meet three criteria: a receptive audience, power (or strong influence), and resonance with the audience. An individual becomes a “memeoid” once he or she receives a meme and has beliefs shaped by that meme (Matusitz, 2011).

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