I spoke with An Xiao Mina for her story in The Atlantic today about the parallels between the spread of Travon Martin and Chinese lawyer Chen Guangcheng in Internet Culture.
Everyone here knows about people posting photos of themselves in hoodies in support of Martin, but did you know that something similar had already taken place in China ?
Remarkably, just a few months prior, China’s internet had experienced a similar explosion of activity. In November 2011, net activists began posting photos of themselves wearing sunglasses on Sina Weibo, China’s most popular Twitter-like microblog service. It started as a trickle but soon grew into dozens and dozens of photos and comics. Wearing sunglasses, like wearing a hoodie, is by itself apolitical. The power lay in the collective action, distributed across a network of supporters.
The thing that fascinates me most about the life of political memes isn’t necessarily the spread (they’re fairly easy to map) but the
"anti-memes" ”counter-memes” (artist and educator mona kasra has suggested the more fitting “counter-memes”) that will occasionally pop up to try and counter and stop the original meme from spreading:
"There were a number of images that went viral with bad information," noted Cheese. "These mostly fake images of Trayvon were posted on Facebook with false information about him and his background, trying to paint him as this unsympathetic character." The meme provided a countervailing and, soon, overwhelming alternative picture of the young man.
Like culture jamming or Ralph Reed-style astroturfing of the 1980’s taught us, sometimes you don’t need mass participation to raise awareness. If the issue is volatile enough, you just need to figure out the polar opposite of “common” sentiment and the media will write about you. (‘Trayvoning' anyone?)
(via A Tale of Two Memes: The Powerful Connection Between Trayvon Martin and Chen Guangcheng - An Xiao Mina - The Atlantic)
UPDATE: An Xiao has posted a follow up on her blog.