The use of online memes is a cultural stamp of the alt-right community; the packaging of political ideology into humorous or ironic media shared within a collective as a set of inside jokes and references is a key tool in the radicalisation process. Drawing on existing research, this Insight identifies three central ways that memes contribute to alt-right culture. First, the use of humour in the form of memes as a collection of ‘inside jokes’, particularly at the expense of an externalised group, intensifies an ‘us vs them’ narrative which promotes social othering. Second, the ‘memeification’ of real-life violence also facilitates a process of desensitisation by presenting extreme content as ironic or light-hearted, making it more consumable and allowing the radicalisation process to occur in a more subtle manner. Third, the ironic edge of meme culture is intentionally useful in its ability to mask serious ideological claims as ‘edgy’ jokes, eschewing any responsibility when external forces attempt to hold alt-right groups accountable for online abuse. In order to combat this specific form of hate and radicalisation, steps should be taken to recognise forms of violent extremism which act as ‘dog whistles’ – that language which is encoded or meaningful only to members of the alt-right, and thus act to incite violence within ‘in-groups’ without provoking reaction from ‘out-groups’.  The Communal Value of Humour In order to understand the use of memes in far-right radicalisation, one must understand the communal value of humour. Greene and Day’s commentary on the subject states that “through collective laughter, satire can help build a sense of community for those in on the joke”. In situations where a group shares humour, they are drawn closer as a collective. When members of a group believe themselves to be in on an exclusive joke, it “fosters greater social affiliation”, and promotes a tighter sense of community among them.  The alt-right benefits from this aspect of shared humour through meme culture. According to the NSPCC guide on factors which increase vulnerability to radicalisation, individuals who are isolated or feel rejected from mainstream society are most at risk.  Individuals who are lonely and long for a sense of community or belonging are vulnerable to the alt-right’s attempts to provide relief from feelings of social rejection.  Humour at the Expense of the ‘Other’ The exclusionary nature of the communal space which is made through shared meme culture is intensified further by the fact that the jokes made by the in-group- are often at the expense of the out-group. Alt-right humour is often shrouded in memes which make light of violent events – even glorifying them in many cases. An effective example of the exclusionary effects of in-/out-group humour within incel communities is seen in the meme culture which emerged off the back of the 2014 Isla Vista shooting. The phrase ‘going ER’ (referring to the shooter, Elliot Rodger) emerged in alt-right communities as a ‘memeified’ term for committing acts of misogynistic violence, specifically ones similar to the 2014 massacre. Here, it is important to emphasise the comradery derived from sharing in-jokes as a group – specifically ones made up of references which seem vague or unnoticeable to outsiders. Communities form surrounding the killing as individuals threatening to ‘go ER’ or referring to Rodger as the ‘supreme gentleman’ (a term coined in Rodger’s manifesto) make subtle yet not overly violent nods to the attack that only those in the know would notice. As a result, this memeification of violence means that individuals are able to root their exclusionary humour in a sense of comradery – a collection of references, vague enough to only be understood by a certain few, turning acts of violence into pop culture references. This renders humour an efficient tool in radicalising individuals into a single tight community within the alt-right characterised by its opposition to the social others whom they mock.

via gnet: Schrödinger’s Joke: The Weaponisation of Irony and Humour in the Alt-Right