Memes and visuals come to the fore

“What concerns me more than the fact that memes and visuals spread misinformation is the idea that the media industry as a whole may be falling behind agents of disinformation when it comes to fluency with the norms and practice of internet culture. This leaves many journalists and audiences vulnerable to new forms of manipulation.”

If 2017 ushered in a growing awareness and conversation in the Western world about the impact of misinformation, disinformation, and media manipulation, 2018 is the year we start taking memetic misinformation and disinformation seriously.

early in 2017, “The fake news conversation has taken place in the realm of words, but that’s missing a big part of the story. Much of the content that circulates on Facebook are images, often memes.” And indeed, , First Draft director Claire Wardle highlighted memes and visuals as one of her group’s top lessons this past year: “Just because it’s easier to parse text doesn’t mean that’s all we should be doing…Agents of disinformation know that it’s all about visuals and memes. Our brains are a lot less likely to be critical of visuals.”

Memes, of course, don’t just have a role in misinformation; they are increasingly a part of our general media landscape. Whether it’s the , developed and circulated by Russian propagandists, or illustrations and hashtags , memes are part of our political culture, utilized by advocacy groups and the president of the United States alike to spread messages. In 2018, journalists will be paying more attention to them, whether as tools of media manipulation, advocacy and amplification, and, yes, even journalism.

Here are four key questions journalists should ask as we look toward 2018:

  • What do we mean by “memes”? Internet scholars and researchers have long been debating what memes are and how they operate, and being more precise about what we mean by memes will be necessary to developing strategies for working with them. Visual Social Media Lab’s coming will be critical here, and we can also learn a lot on how others talk about memes. Amanda Brennan, Tumblr’s meme librarian (yes, that’s her job title), defines memes as “pieces of content that travel from person to person and change along the way.” This means we need to consider more than images: text-based memes, hashtags, videos, and even forms of offline content count too.
  • How do memes spread information disorder? If we run with Brennan’s definition and take a more expansive view of memes to include pieces of content that are not visual, the challenges of addressing information disorder can seem overwhelming. But it’s important to understand that on the internet, content is frequently remixed, recontextualized, and repurposed across a variety of media, spread by both people and bots on public and private social networks in ways outside the bounds of traditional journalistic media. We have to understand these dynamics if we want to meaningfully address them, and, in addition to the folks I’ve mentioned already, groups like the are working to articulate these patterns.
  • How can journalists use memes? While memes and visuals spread information disorder, we also need to understand that they are now key to the communications landscape. In addition to the information they convey, they also carry notions of emotion, narrative, and identity. It’s time for a broader discussion in media about how and when we should utilize memes and visuals effectively. , and BuzzFeed provide key examples in this regard, as do catchy visual explainers circulated by groups like the . We in journalism should begin to discuss this more broadly, to develop best practices around how to utilize memetic media effectively in our work.
  • How can we work collaboratively and across disciplines? Importantly, memes often rely on catchy visuals and phrases, and consequently, they spread globally in ways that other types of content do not. We’ll need to build global, multilingual coalitions to fully understand their scope and reach. Journalists and bloggers at the recent Global Voices Summit have begun thinking through strategies for identifying and tracking memes as they spread globally and across languages, and is developing a dashboard for tracking misinformation memes. As well, our work at the aims to develop indicators of misinformation for many types of online content, and to do that effectively, we need a diverse, multidisciplinary group with global perspectives.

What concerns me more than the fact that memes and visuals spread misinformation is the idea that the media industry as a whole may be falling behind agents of disinformation when it comes to fluency with the norms and practice of internet culture. This leaves many journalists and audiences vulnerable to new forms of manipulation. In 2018, we should start tackling this challenge urgently and in earnest. It would meme a lot.

is director of product at and project lead at the .

Laura E. Davis   Writing answers before you know the question

Raney Aronson-Rath   Transparency is the antidote to fake news

Tracie Powell   The muting of underserved voices

Susie Banikarim   R.I.P. Pivot to Video (2017–2017)

Bill Keller   A growing turn to philanthropy

Matt Carlson   Attacks on the press will get worse

Alastair Coote   The year of self-improvement

Kyle Ellis   Let’s build our way out of this

Joanne McNeil   Gatekeeping the gatekeepers

Jennifer Coogan   The future is female

Kathleen McElroy   Building a news video experience native to mobile

Rubina Madan Fillion   Unlocking the potential of AI

Kim Fox   Audience teams diversify their approach

Steve Grove   The midterms are an opportunity

Matt Thompson   Here come the attention managers

Cristina Wilson   The year of the Instagram Story

Hannah Cassius   The year of the echo-chamber escapists

Borja Echevarría   TV goes digital, digital goes TV

Nushin Rashidian   Publishers seek ad dollar alternatives

Jessica Parker Gilbert   Design connects storytelling and strategy

Dan Newman   A return to trust

Vivian Schiller   Pivot to tomorrow

Betsy O'Donovan and Melody Kramer   Skepticism and narcissism

Matt Boggie   The intellectual equivalent of the Dead Sea

Marcela Donini and Thiago Herdy   Collaboration is the way forward for Brazilian journalism

Sue Schardt   Jump the niche

Mike Caulfield   Refactoring media literacy for the networked age

Jim Brady   With the people, not just of the people

Michelle Garcia   Navigating journalistic transparency

Rodney Benson   Better, less read, and less trusted

Tanzina Vega   It’s time for media companies to #PassTheMic

Sam Ford   The year of investing in processes

Doris Truong   Computer vision vs. the Internet vigilantes

Mira Lowe   The year of the local watchdog

Caitlin Thompson   Podcasting models mature and diversify

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams   Women of color will reclaim and monetize our time

Francesco Marconi   The year of machine-to-machine journalism

Debra Adams Simmons   And a woman shall lead them

Vanessa K. DeLuca   Women’s voices take center stage

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Seeking trust in fragmented spaces

Feli Sánchez   The year for guerrilla user research

Jared Newman   Venture funding and digital news don’t mix

Ray Soto   VR reaches the next level

Alexios Mantzarlis   Moving fake news research out of the lab

Hossein Derakhshan   Television has won

Millie Tran and Stine Bauer Dahlberg   (Hint: It’s about your brand)

Andrew Losowsky   The year of resilience

Emily Goligoski   Looking beyond news for inspiration

Usha Sahay   Wallets get opened

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   The Snapchat scenario and the risk of more closed platforms

Jassim Ahmad   Thriving on change

Evie Nagy   Pivot to mobile video frustration

Amy Webb   Listen to weak signals

Nikki Usher   The year of The Washington Post

Daniel Trielli   The rich get richer, the poor scramble

Craig Newmark   Working together toward sustainable solutions

Tamar Charney   We get serious about algorithms

José Zamora   Revenue-first journalism

Burt Herman   Things get real

Nicholas Diakopoulos   Fortifying social media from automated inauthenticity

An Xiao Mina   Memes and visuals come to the fore

Jake Levine   The return to now

Ruth Palmer   Risks will grow for news subjects — especially minorities

Kawandeep Virdee   Zines had it right all along

Marie Gilot   No assholes allowed

Christopher Meighan   Passive partnership is in the rearview

Dan Shanoff   You down with OTT? (Yeah, DTC)

Neha Gandhi   Filler killers

C.W. Anderson   The social media apocalypse

Julia B. Chan   Looking for loyalty in all the right places

Nicholas Quah   Stop talking trash about young people

Lanre Akinola   Making noise is not a strategy

Raju Narisetti   Mirror, mirror on the wall

Jarrod Dicker   Honesty in advertising

Imaeyen Ibanga   Longform video leads the way

Yvonne Leow   The rise of video messaging

Umbreen Bhatti   The trust problem isn’t new

Carrie Brown-Smith   Transparency finally takes off

Dannagal G. Young   Stop covering politics as a game

Jacqui Cheng   Retailers move into content

Monika Bauerlein   The firehose of falsehood

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Publishing less to give readers more

Claire Wardle   Disinformation gets worse

Sarah Marshall   Loyalty as the key performance indicator

Kinsey Wilson   Facebook and Google: Help out or pay up

Caitria O'Neill   The new court of public opinion

David Skok   Finding an information-life balance

Emma Carew Grovum   Newsroom culture becomes a priority

Justin Kosslyn   The year journalists become digital security experts

Almar Latour   Conquering calm

Pia Frey   Address users as individuals

Jennifer Choi   Standing up for us and for each other

Nancy Watzman   Know thy TV

Rachel Davis Mersey   AI, with real smarts

Sam Sanders   Shine the light on ourselves

Andrew Haeg   The year journalists become relationship builders

Jesse Holcomb   Information disorder, coming to a congressional district near you

Joanne Lipman   Journalists inventing revenue streams

Taylor Lorenz   Social and media will split

Will Sommer   The year local media gets conservative

Felix Salmon   Covering bitcoin while owning bitcoin

Renée Kaplan   The year of quiet adjustments (shhh)

Cindy Royal   Your journalism curriculum is obsolete

Lucas Graves   From algorithms to institutions

Julia Beizer   A longer view on the pivot

Michelle Ferrier   The year of the great reckoning

Mary Walter-Brown   Show a little vulnerability

Niketa Patel   Live journalism comes of age

Errin Haines Whack   At the ballot, it’s time to count black women

Amy King   Let’s amplify visual voice

Amie Ferris-Rotman   More female reporters abroad (please)

Mario García   Storytelling finally adapts to mobile

Paul Ford   Go global

Tim Carmody   Watch out for Spotify

Adam Thomas   Sharing is caring: The year of the mentor

Mi-Ai Parrish   Blockchain and trust

Rick Berke   Value is the watchword

Kelsey Proud   No, no, no

Edward Roussel   Eyes, ears, and brains

Dheerja Kaur   Fun with subscription products

Miguel Castro   The arrival of the impact producer

Brian Lam   Sketchy ethics around product reviews

Mandy Velez   texting is lit rn, fam

Jennifer Brandel and Mónica Guzmán   The editorial meeting of the future

S. Mitra Kalita   The arc of news and audience

Lam Thuy Vo   Breaking free from the tyranny of the loudest

Alice Antheaume   Are you fluent in AI?

Andrew Ramsammy   The year ownership mattered

Charo Henríquez   Training is an investment, not an expense

Manoush Zomorodi   Self-help as a publishing strategy

Rodney Gibbs   Tech workers turn to journalism

Tanya Cordrey   Finally, the seeds of radical reinvention

Helen Havlak   Keywords, not publishers, power the world’s biggest feeds

Ståle Grut   Reclaiming audience interaction from social networks

L. Gordon Crovitz   Serving readers over advertisers

Joyce Barnathan   It will be harder to bury the news

Trushar Barot   The Jio-fication of India

Corey Johnson   The pro-fact resistance

Sydette Harry   Listen to your corner and watch for the hook

Jamie Mottram   From pageviews to t-shirts

Eric Nuzum   Beyond the narrative arc

Eric Ulken   The year local publishers get smart(er) about change

Frédéric Filloux   External forces

Damon Krukowski   Reviving the alt-weekly soul

Kristen Muller   The year of the voter

Sara M. Watson   Feeds will open up to new user-determined filters

Nathalie Malinarich   Peak push

Elizabeth Jensen   Show your work

Michael Kuntz   The only pivot that might work

Alfred Hermida   Going beyond mobile-first

Mary Meehan   Real lives are at stake in rural areas

Zizi Papacharissi   Women come back

John Keefe   Scooped by AI

Cory Haik   Suffering from realness, pivoting to impact

Matt DeRienzo   A recession, then a collapse

Richard J. Tofel   The platforms’ power demands more reporters’ attention

Molly de Aguiar   Good journalism won’t be enough

Aron Pilhofer   We can’t leave the business to the business side any more

Basile Simon   We need better career paths for news nerds

Monique Judge   Letting black women tell their own stories

Pablo Boczkowski   The rise of skeptical reading

Alan Soon   The rise of start of psychographic, micro-targeted media

Ariana Tobin   Too tired to tap

Heather Bryant   Building the ecosystems for collaboration

Mariana Moura Santos   Think local, act global

Luke O'Neil   The end is already here

Pete Brown   Push alerts, personalized

Federica Cherubini   The rise of bridge roles in news organizations

Jim Moroney   Newspapers have to be good enough for readers to pay for

P. Kim Bui   The reckoning is only beginning

Mariano Blejman   News games rule

Sally Lehrman   Trust comes first

Juliette De Maeyer   A responsible press criticism

Carlos Martínez de la Serna   The new journalism commons

Corey Ford   The empire strikes back

Rachel Schallom   Better design helps differentiate opinion and news