In the early 2000s, Matt Furie, a young American webcomic writer, saw a panel in one of his strips featuring a character named Pepe, become a reaction meme on the internet, but, over the two decades that have passed since the meme’s inception, that very same meme has been co-opted by white nationalists to spread disinformation on the internet. This paper identifies the epistemological and psychological processes manipulated by the media in which disinformation is disseminated with a special focus on memes inspired by Pepe. A greater understanding of the various factors at play in this particular case study can be obtained through examining primary sources relating to the reaction meme in question and scholarly texts relating to the epistemological and psychological effects of memes. Specifically, this case study seeks to explore the psychological biases at play that can cause a naive reader to seek out sources that confirm their pre-existing beliefs. The case study also raises questions about how scholars in the field of disinformation studies should handle the authorship of memes and the ambiguity surrounding it in their work, which reveals the role that memes play in blurring the lines between the epistemological sources of knowledge and justification, causing a person to believe that another’s testimony is their own introspection.
Download Full Text (755 KB)
Stiller, Sam, "Feels Bad Man: How One Amphibian Became A Weapon of Mass Disinformation" (2022). Research Days Posters 2022. 129.