How do 4chan/pol/ users deploy memes to negotiate their group identity? How can we trace these to map their collectivity?
In this publication in New Media & Society, Sal Hagen explores how Internet memes can be traced as nodal points for the study of online groups. He argues ‘meme tracing’ is specifically pertinent to the study of anonymous imageboards like 4chan, where inquiry cannot be easily based on the individual. Drawing from actor-network theory, te text argues ‘panoramic memes’ – memes that repeatedly paint a totalising picture of a collective – are especially useful to identify what narratives hold such anonymous groups together.
The paper offers a case study of ‘/ourguy/’: a meme used to suggest a certain public figure is representative of the beliefs of an entire group. Using text mining methods, /ourguy/ is connected to names of public figures on 4chan’s far-right /pol/ board. This reveals that Donald Trump and Robert Mueller were most commonly proposed as an ‘/ourguy/’ between 2016 and 2020, while the meme was entangled with conspiracy creation and far-right mobilisation.