A ‘meme’.  What is it?

When I entered ‘definition of meme’ into search, google came up with this



plural noun: memes
an element of a culture or system of behaviour passed from one individual to another by imitation or other non-genetic means.
an image, video, piece of text, etc., typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by Internet users, often with slight variations.

 first used in 1970s:¹

 from Greek mimēma ‘that which is imitated’


Sounds fairly innocent, right?

Another description of meme is ‘mind virus’.  

Maybe not so innocent?

That depends on how it is applied.

Like a lot of things it can be beneficial or harmful and it depends on the intent of those using it.

Remember playing ‘Chinese Whispers’² when you were a kid?  A group of you got together and the first one starts off by whispering a message in the ear of the kid standing next to him/her.  Then the second kid whispers the message to the next one and so on down the line.  Usually by the end the message bears little resemblance to the original.

Memes are like that.  What starts off as a simple message gets added to or subtracted from by the time its spread across hundreds and eventually thousands of ears down the line.

That’s how urban myths are born.  That’s how history gets distorted.

It can be done by accident.  People have bad memories and can miss out a few details or embellish them.

Or it can be deliberate.

If someone wanted to create panic for whatever reason it is extremely easy now most of us in the West have access to TV, radio and social media via the internet.  In fact it was successfully carried out before we were so inter-connected ~ in the 1930’s!  Yes, you read that correctly ~ 1938 to be precise ~ on CBS radio in the USA.

Picture the scene.

Families across the States, winding down for the evening sitting around the radio listening to what they thought was going to be a music show broadcast from New York but which turned out to be the biggest wind-up!!

The programme was interrupted a few minutes into the show by a news bulletin stating that astronomers had witnessed flashes coming from the planet Mars.  Then the programme resumed only to be disrupted again with more ‘news’ ~ a meteor had hit New Jersey!  The story escalated when the ‘meteor’ turned out to be…………….drum roll!……………. a SPACE SHIP!!!

Needless to say, mass panic spread throughout the listening audience.  You can imagine people ringing their friends and family who were maybe not listening to the show telling them Earth was being attacked by Martians and urging them to take cover! Some even evacuated their homes!  (And maybe their bowels!)

And this was before Roswell!

Read more here:

That is just one broad example of how people can and have been manipulated by someone using memes.

Manipulated into panic.


Fast forward to today.

Is it as easy to spread a misleading meme now?

Are people more aware now than they were back then?

Probably those who’d been taken in by a hoax might be more alert and less likely to be fooled but if someone hadn’t witnessed something on this scale before then maybe they would fall for it?

So what is to be gained by creating panic and fear?

Simply, people stop  functioning normally when they are in fear/panic mode.  Think about the last time you were really anxious about something.  It occupies your thoughts all the time and stops you thinking about other things.  The anxiety becomes a major distraction.  If you don’t find a way of dealing with the anxiety, eventually it can make you ill, reliant on medication perhaps and in turn lose the ability to think or care for yourself or others such as children who depend on you.  Now, who would want to distract us?  Hmm…  I need to think about that! 🙂

There are certain buzz words (memes) that you see repeated ad nauseam both in the mainstream media and on the internet at the moment which seem to be scaring the bejabers out of some.  I’m not going to mention them here because I don’t want to spread the virus.  Just think about who is.

Maybe they are there by accident!



¹Richard Dawkins in the mid 1970’s in his book ‘The Selfish Gene’.

² That probably isn’t politically correct but no disrespect was intended.  Also known as ‘Broken Telephone’.


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