Viral sloganeering

Viral sloganeering is the tactic of creating short, catchy phrases intended to deliver persuasive, disruptive messaging. Viral slogans may highlight social wedges, and sow additional divisions along political or cultural lines by capturing social media attention, provoking media coverage, and sometimes garnering institutional responses. These often divisive phrases are used on and offline, spread virally through memes, hashtags, posters, and videos.

To succeed as viral slogans, they must expand past their community of origin and creators into the public sphere. With this scale and distance, authorship and origin are often concealed, enabling mainstream media coverage and further amplification without attribution.1 Successful viral slogans often capitalize on breaking news events, and can themselves be the catalyst for news coverage. As such, the outcome of viral sloganeering often is the popularization of previous underused words or phrases — effective tools in keyword squatting or the filling of data voids, which are terms and search queries about which there isn’t much content.2

Current examples of viral sloganeering include “Lock Her Up” (aimed at Hillary Clinton), “Send Her Back” (aimed at Ilhan Omar),3 and “Quarantine is when you restrict movement of sick people.4 Tyranny is when you restrict the movement of healthy people.” Casebook examples of viral sloganeering can be found in “Jobs Not Mobs” and “It’s OK To Be White,” both of which mainstreamed xenophobic and racist talking points. 

Viral sloganeering is a Casebook value under the "Tactics" variable in the code book.

  • 1. Joan Donovan and Brian Friedberg, “Source Hacking: Media Manipulation In Practice” (Data & Society Research Institute), 2019, https://datasociety.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Source-Hacking_Hi-res.pdf.
  • 2. Michael Golebiewski and danah boyd, “Data Voids: Where Missing Data Can Easily Be Exploited” (Data & Society Research Institute), 2018, https://datasociety.net/output/data-voids-where-missing-data-can-easily-be-exploited/.
  • 3. Technology and Social Change Project, “Lock Her Up? The Long Tail of Viral Slogans,” Meme War Weekly, April 28, 2020, https://medium.com/memewarweekly/lock-her-up-the-long-tail-of-viral-slogans-562d799b0d07.
  • 4. Jazmine Ulloa, “How memes, text chains, and online conspiracies have fueled coronavirus protesters and discord,” The Boston Globe, May 6, 2020, https://www.bostonglobe.com/2020/05/06/nation/how-memes-text-chains-online-conspiracies-haves-fueled-coronavirus-protesters-discord/.

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