Re-mixing histories, re-shaping protests: Internet memes as a form of (counter)resistance in Ukraine and Venezuela

Juan, González; Makhortykh, Mykola (11 September 2019). Re-mixing histories, re-shaping protests: Internet memes as a form of (counter)resistance in Ukraine and Venezuela (Unpublished). In: Jeopardizing Democracy throughout History: Media as Accomplice, Adversary or Amplifier of Populist and Radical Politics. Vienna. September 11-13.

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Internet memes are important part of today’s digital culture. Defined by Shifman (2011) as digital content units sharing common characteristics of content, form and stance, memes are often discussed as online entertainment products. Yet, memes’ functionality goes far beyond entertainment: by re-mixing and re-interpreting existing cultural objects to produce new pieces of online content, meme-makers shape cultural and political identities. Under these conditions, internet memes increasingly become an effective means of political communication, being used to frame political statements in a humorous and amateurish way and embed them into viral online content. The qualities of internet memes make them particularly effective tools of online protest campaigns. By arousing strong affective reactions, memes facilitate mobilization of supporters and contribute to protesters’ identity building by conveying a variety of social, cultural, and political meanings. These memetic affordances are especially important for non- and partially free media systems where citizens often have limited possibility to comment on pressing societal issues and employ means of participatory culture for political and cultural self-expression. Memes, however, can also lead to societal polarization by evoking emotional responses to stigmatize specific social groups and forming their negative identities. In the latter cases, memes often instrumentalize cultural objects related to historical traumas and conflicts for amplifying and contextualizing their aggressive message. In our paper, we examine how internet memes were used during protest campaign in Ukraine in 2013-2014 and in Venezuela in 2018-2019. Our choice of case studies is based on two reasons: firstly, existing research rarely adopts comparative perspective and primarily focuses on Western democracies, whereas the role of memes in non-Western contexts remains under-investigated. By looking on Ukraine and Venezuela, we compare the use of memes in Eastern European and Latin American media systems which share a number of similarities (e.g. limitations of press freedom, the bursty rise of internet penetration and use of digital media for political self-expression). Secondly, both Ukraine and Venezuela recently experienced significant societal upheavals accompanied by the intense instrumentalization of digital culture products by pro- and anti-regime actors. Yet, how different or similar are these instrumental practices depending on the political leaning of their agents is currently an open question. Using qualitative content analysis, we analyzed a large set of memes produced and distributed by pro- and anti-regime activists in Ukraine and Venezuela through major social media platforms (e.g. Vkontakte, Facebook and Twitter). We employed inductive coding approach to identify features of internet memes related to their a) content features: what kind of cultural objects were re-mixed to produce the meme; b) political features: what was the political message behind a specific memes; c) historical features: what kind of historical references were used to amplify the meme’s message. Our analysis indicated that despite significant differences in terms of specific cultural objects used for memes construction, the ways political and historical features were used turned to be similar (e.g. in both countries pro-regime activists were more eager to deploy references to the past traumas).

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


03 Faculty of Business, Economics and Social Sciences > Social Sciences > Institute of Mass Communication Studies

UniBE Contributor:

Makhortykh, Mykola


300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology
900 History > 940 History of Europe




Mykola Makhortykh

Date Deposited:

17 Sep 2019 15:19

Last Modified:

17 Sep 2019 15:19

Uncontrolled Keywords:

internet memes, polarization, ukraine, venezuela, historical memory


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