In a publication for Information, Communication & Society, Sal Hagen and Tommaso Venturini propose a new theoretical framework to conceptualise Internet memes and to trace their temporal variation on 4chan/pol/. They draw from literature on primary and secondary orality to conceptualise the repetition-with-variation of Internet memes as a form of memecry, which we argue is specifically pertinent to the collectivity of online subcultures.
Hagen and Tuters operationalise the study of memecry through formulas: mnemonic phrases that encapsulate important elements of oral cultures, which have arguably regained prominence in ephemeral and fast-paced online environments. While Internet memes have often been studied as single images or words, formulas provide a more complex unit for tracing variation and not only circulation. The authors offer a quali-quantitative protocol to investigate memecry and visualise the spread and variability of 65 prominent formulas on 4chan/pol/, a far-right space known for its reliance on memes. By discussing several cases, they demonstrate how 4chan’s collective identity indeed features typical of secondary oral cultures, while revealing how the memecry of its formulas is entwined with reactionary sentiments and a subcultural struggle for distinction.