The Power of Memes

Memes. When the term meme boards your train of thought bound for an exotic destination, the scenery is most likely familiar to you. In an age where social media has become a dominant force in how people informally educate and entertain themselves, memes have taken on a social and cultural personality that is largely misunderstood. This is unfortunate, because memes can be a useful tool in how we understand who we are. They also can be useful in understanding how we can better protect ourselves. They can further be useful in understanding how memes in a traditional and modern sense draw attention to us, which proverbially draws a bullseye on our back. 

Today a meme is thought of as a witty, pithy, and often humorous message emblazoned on a visual representation of what the message is trying to convey. A short visit to social media platforms such as Facebook or Instagram will acquaint the curious observer into the worldview of the originator of the message. The meme may portray political or social ideologies. The sad part of this reality though is that the historical, and thus true, meaning and power of the meme has been misplaced. 

A meme according to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary is an idea, usage, style, or behavior that is transmitted from person to person within a given culture. They are portrayed as discrete, miniscule units of knowledge that convey ideas and beliefs surrounding a culture in order to propagate what is known and believed by that culture. By examining the traditional definition of the meme, what we see is that the term meme has not been lost, it has been misplaced and misapplied. Memes on social media in many cases do advance what certain segments of society believe to be true. The modern meme however is a vessel for the meme. It is not necessarily the meme itself. 

Our professional practice often takes on time sensitive areas of interest, and at present moment my colleagues and I are examining privacy issues. Privacy, in a nutshell, is largely left up to you. What you choose to disclose, how much you choose to disclose, and where you choose to disclose your beliefs is a decision that each person must make. What we counsel clients on regarding their disclosures is the uncomfortable reality that you are free to disclose anything you want to about yourself. You are not however free from the consequences of those disclosures. I have often had to counsel clients against maintaining a misguided notion that they have a right to speak and to be heard in a society that trumpets free speech and transparency. They are right; they do have a right to speak freely and to express themselves online or elsewhere. The problem arises when leading clients down a path of understanding those what would mean to do them harm. Those that mean to do you harm are not concerned with your rights. 

A popular place that I look for memes in our society in 2020 usually is not on social media platforms such as Facebook or Instagram. These two platforms are a proverbial garden of memes. But do they tell a true story of what this person  believes at their core? Are they representative of what this person and their circle of friends recognize as core truths about the world? That is up for debate. I have often reposted memes online because I simply found them humorous. They did not necessarily represent a profound cultural belief that I hold dearly. 

In our professional practice and when the need arises, I often reveal to clients that one of the primary places that I will look for memes that specifically relate to them as people are located on the back of their vehicle. One particular meme that we see today is the “Don’t Tread on Me” sticker. For this blog we are not necessarily concerned with the historical aspects of the slogan in totality. We are concerned with the ideological perception it portrays to those who may not understand its historical significance. Generally speaking, this meme today portrays the idea that the person holding the idea that one should not tread upon them is a person who owns firearms, resents unreasonable government intrusion into their lives, and is willing to defend those ideals.

Whether or not this is an encompassing identification of those who exhibit this meme is irrelevant. What we are looking at is the perception of those who witness the meme, especially those who may harbor ill will towards such people. The perceptions held by people that see this slogan and its associated artwork may lead to conclusions that can lead to not only invasions of privacy, but to potential acts that may be unfounded. I have spoken with people that have said that when they see the “Don’t Tread on Me” slogan on a vehicle, they assume to a large degree that there are firearms in the vehicle. This potentially can lead to vehicle breakings and entering and thefts. It can lead to property damage in the form of vandalism to the vehicle. It can lead to unwelcome attention being drawn to the person who, as we pointed out previously, is simply exercising their right to express themselves and what they believe. 

It is a fallacy to believe that we can eliminate all threats to our personal safety. Our goal as professionals and those who are educated regarding safety and security should be to recognize potential threats and mitigate them to the greatest degree possible. We have to take inventory of what we are willing to sacrifice in order to let the world know who we are and what we believe. 

You may be thinking by now that I do not place decals and vanity license plates on my vehicles after reading this blog. You would be wrong. Although educated and experienced in the criminal world and the security profession, I am still just like you. I am a human being trying to live life under the most pleasant and joyous circumstances possible. We all just need to understand and recognize that our memes tell a story, and we must be prepared to take measures to deal with the unintended consequences of the message. 

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