It's Time to Embrace Memetic Warfare


Ideas and influence travel fast. In today’s globalized information environment, the ability to influence narrative and perception has become, arguably, the most leveraged, participatory, and relevant form of power. That is what this 2015 paper is about — the war over narrative, aggressively delivered through guerilla online communications known as “memetic warfare.” A year and a half have passed since it was published, and at the time there was significant concern about ISIS’s ability to recruit and spread its message online. Governments were struggling to counter Islamists’ guerilla communications tactics. The journey to writing it began with a simple question: Why aren’t we weaponizing trolling and memetics to fight ISIS and other enemies? I had seen the effectiveness of these crafts in political contexts. Why not use it to destroy ISIS?

Thus, this paper aimed to do two things. First, it set out to advance the concept of memetic warfare. In the same way cyber warfare expanded the military into hacking and security, this paper argues for “a more expansive view of strategic communications on the social media battlefield.” It proposes memetic warfare as a guerilla form of information operations that is needed in our rapidly evolving, social media-driven information environment. The second aim of the paper was to explore the barriers and considerations to making memetic warfare a reality — to start a conversation about the organizational, bureaucratic, doctrinal, legal, and ethical considerations involved in this. The intent was to push NATO member governments to take memetic warfare seriously as a craft and as a threat.

Today, in early 2017, this paper feels particularly relevant. On March 7th, WikiLeaks released a mass leak of nearly 9,000 classified documents that reveal the CIA’s extensive hacking and electronic intercept capabilities. Instantaneously, the entire world gained access to highly sensitive documents about sources and methods of U.S. national security. The conversation among Americans shifted from the threats of Russian (Read more here)

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