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Meme Wars: how the internet changed politics from Occupy to the insurrection

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Date and time
Friday, November 18, 2022

Memes have long been dismissed as inside jokes with no political importance. Nothing could be further from the truth. Memes are bedrock to the strategy of conspiracists such as Alex Jones, provocateurs like Milo Yiannopoulos, white nationalists like Nick Fuentes, and tacticians like Roger Stone. While the media and most politicians struggle to harness the organizing power of the internet, the “redpill right” weaponizes memes, pushing conspiracy theories and disinformation into the mainstream to drag people down the rabbit hole. These meme wars stir strong emotions, deepen partisanship, and get people off their keyboards and into the streets--and the steps of the US Capitol. Join disinformation and media manipulation experts Dr. Joan Donovan and Brian Freidberg, from the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School, in a discussion about how far-right extremist communities online are using memes and social media to bring new people to their ideologies, and drive real-world actions. Moderated by Technology and Innovation Boston Globe reporter, Anissa Gardizy.

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Donovan leads the field in examining internet and technology studies, online extremism, disinformation and media manipulation. Donovan received her Ph.D in Philosophy from UC San Diego and is currently assistant Professor of Journalism & Emerging Media Studies at Boston University and founder of The Critical Internet Studies Institute, a non-profit that advocates for a public interest internet. Her latest book is MEME WARS: The Untold Story of the Online Battles Upending Democracy in America, with Emily Dreyfuss and Brian Friedberg.
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Brian Friedberg is the Senior Researcher of the Technology and Social Change Research Project at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School. Blending academic research and Open Source Intelligence techniques, Brian is an investigative ethnographer, focusing on the impacts alternative media, anonymous communities, and unpopular cultures have on political communication and organization. Brian holds an MA in Cultural Production from Brandeis University.
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Anissa Gardizy (pronounced Ah-knee-sah Gar-dee-zee) is a technology and innovation reporter at the Boston Globe. She focuses on emerging industries and trends, culture, and breaking news involving both startups and publicly traded tech firms. She joined the Globe's business desk in January 2020. Anissa's byline has appeared in The Information, STAT, and the Telegram & Gazette. She graduated from Emerson College with a degree in journalism and has taken economics classes at Framingham State University.
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