There has to be some neurological reason for why people instantly believe Facebook memes. They will even insist that the meme was correct even when shown information that disproves the meme. So we don’t read memes the way we read, sat, and ordinary Facebook post. We certainly don’t read them the way we read articles or blogs. We retain an element of skepticism when we read something not in a meme. But memes, they are not only believed, but they are believed without question. Somehow, the part of then reading process that takes in the information we read and mulls it over before accepting it–a process that takes a fraction of a second, but it is there, allowing you to tell a lie from fact, a joke from a real story–that process is completely skipped when we look at a meme.
It might be that we read memes like we traffic signs. They come similarly packaged, and we can’t actually edit it or change the letters around, it is a picture of language. As are road signs. We never doubt a road sign. If it says stop we know it means we should stop. If it says merging traffic ahead we know there will be a lane of traffic coming in. If it says no parking we never assume it means we can park there. We just believe. We may not obey, but it doesn’t mean that we deny that what the sign tells us is not true. I’m not sure how that works. I’m not sure why we instantly believe a traffic sign, with no need for reflection, while we find ourselves thinking the traffic laws in the driver’s manual are stupid. But I suspect the reading process for memes and traffic signs are similar. Because most people instantly believe memes, without question. It takes effort to doubt them. None of us who do doubt them began doubting them. We learned to do that, and we are in the minority. And when we do tell people that the memes are wrong, the meme believers will doubt that we are correct. No matter how much information they are shown, they will be skeptical of the actual information presented in a non-meme format–written in a post, say, or presented in a link–and will actually argue that the meme was correct. And that is neurological. That is an automated brain process. That is something very difficult to avoid. A meme–always presented in a picture form, such as jpeg–has an ability to circumvent our critical thinking faculties and become fact in our mind, much as we automatically believe a merging lane ahead sign. Its viral potential is phenomenal because its information is believed, without question, by most people who read it. I remember reading about Dawkins’ meme theory, before these Facebook style memes even existed, and meme theory fell apart because there was no mechanism for transmission. But now, via Facebook, there is a mechanism for transmission. A meme can spread from human brain to human brain via our eye and ability to read language . It can’t be spread to a blind man. It can’t be spread to someone who can’t read, or to someone who can’t read the language in the meme. But it can be spread in picture form–if you rewrote it in text it would not be believed automatically–and will be believed the way traffic signs are believed. There is a way to get people to believe anything they read if it can be put in a picture format. The fact that you can have a meme several hundred words long that is still believed without question in a way an article is not is probably because we read so much more than we ever did before because we are online so many hours a day and when we are online we are reading constantly. We are just used to more written words now, and as such, we can compartmentalize entire paragraphs into picture-like packets that are looked at the way we read a traffic sign.
The potential for exploitation here is breathtaking, and doubtless it is already happening. Meme theory, long just a nifty idea, a theoretical possibility, can actually happen via Facebook, When we share a meme, we are replicating it in the mind of whoever reads it. It has to be the single fastest way of spreading identical information that there is, and only with discipline can a person learn to read them critically, because memes are designed to be believed exactly as they are written. They are, I suspect, a revolutionary form of spreading information. Probably temporary, eventually people will begun reading them like we read everything else, critically and skeptically. But for now, memes will be spreading world wide, too often sowing misinformation and disinformation and utterly believed by nearly everyone who reads them because the belief is automatic.