Those viral online imitations — memes, as they’re called — can be more than just funny or annoying.
They can be terrorizing.
“A click, a save, a retweet…yeah, a like, that was one of the techniques we learned about today in the panel,” said Gina Ligon, director of the National Counterterrorism, Innovation, Technology and Education Center (NCITE). “Even liking them can alert a terrorist you’re sympathetic to their ideals.”
She’s referring to Thursday’s international panel discussing terrorists’ use of memes. More than 200 government officials and members of the public joined online.
“I first started studying them when ISIS was using them to recruit English speakers,” Ligon said. “They would do memes with ISIS fighters with kittens, and they would spread like wildfire online because they were so desperate to have a kitten with an ISIS fighter…and now, one of the reasons we held this, after the Buffalo attack this summer…that shooter had a ton of memes in his [posts].”
“We’re not just concerned about violent memes, we’re concerned about how violent memes might impact as violence in real life,” said NCITE researcher and panelist Kat Parsons.
Parsons is one of more than 50 NCITE researchers at universities across the nation. She shared some of her current studies into how memes can be used to spread violent beliefs. She was joined on the online panel by Oliver Goodman of U-K- based Moonshot, which “works to develop technologies and methodologies to expose threats, disrupt malicious actors, and protect vulnerable audiences online” as well as Arthur Bradley, the open source intelligence manager at Tech Against Terrorism.