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Pérez Trujillo Diniz & Pelletier-Gagnon Colonizing Memes Slides

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  • This paper explores spatiality in the study of internet memes. During the last presidential election in the United States, the ¨Pepe the Frog¨ internet meme was repurposed as a white supremacy symbol by members of the Alt-right internet political movement as a way to claim back the character from regular internet users—or normies—, restricting its use to core members of internet image boards. When Pepe the Frog was officially registered in the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) database of hate symbols, a campaign was launched in collaboration with Matt Furie, the meme’s original creator, and the ADL to disaffiliate the character from hate speech.

    In light of these events, we argue that readings memes as cyberplaces, and Pepe the Frog as a contour anchoring a community-building discussions amongst netizens, is an approach that better highlights the dynamics of meaning-making on internet imageboards. Contrary to the geometric notion of space, the concept of place interpolates meaning. Thus we define a cyberplace as a place where a multiplicity of simultaneous meanings about a virtual object inhabit the same virtual object with his or her own trajectory. The infrastructure of a cyberplace allows a nuanced understanding of the meme dynamics at work, for the different trajectories of users efface previous meanings and impose new meanings on memes, not unlike the process of colonization enacted on places. In this paper, we sketch three spatial layers that have come to define Pepe the Frog as a meme: the meme-image, the platform and the meme-frame.

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    Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International