Memes Incitement & Gun Control


Michael Nicholas Hunt

documents a case study demonstrating how the memes we consume on social media sometimes have long histories. Many memes are perfectly safe but some can occasionally exert unconscious bias and be a factor in inciting mass shootings such as has occurred recently in July and August 2019 in  Gilmore California, El Paso Texas and Dayton Ohio.

Some of this memetic content can be thought of as similar to a safety catch on a gun.  The case study traces the development of a meme and its history of incitement from the writings of Nobel prize winner Rudyard Kipling in 1912, to the Easter Rising Dublin 1916 and the Chicago Riots in 1919. The meme was given fresh impetus in 1970 when it was taken over by the Jackson 5.  A repurposed version of the meme was in evidence during recent Confederate Military Statue demonstrations in 2017 and 2018 as populist anti-minority sentiment was openly expressed on the streets and counter-demonstrations occurred.

Memes Incitement & Gun Control relates the history of this longstanding 'ABC' meme in its various guises to the current political situation in 2019 and contextualises the meme within a broad range of civil demonstrations, music and cinema.  The reader will be able to connect the historical beginnings of the meme and its strange Irish language history to the gun control debate for the 2020 election cycle and discuss the rise of populist political rhetoric as a social media tool.

The case study illustrates that while gun legislation and controls are a significant opportunity that there is no substitute for voluntary curation of the content and language we use in the media as it can strongly influence how certain people behave through unconscious bias.

Those that choose the rhetorical shortcut of heated rhetorical populism to boost ratings online may risk everyone’s safety when there are more measured means of communication available.