Class Notes: Rhetorical Hashtags and Memes (11/30)

McVey and Woods, “Anti-racist Activism and the Transformational Principles of Hashtag Publics: From #HandsUpDontShoot to #PantsUpDontLoot”


HandsUpDontShoot, Black Lives Matter, Michael Brown, Ferguson

—Social Media facilitates anti-racist organizing and counterprotests

—Publics…Groups that organize around activity

—Hashtags allow for rapid rhetorical response…Way of mobilizing responses (protests, social movements, information spreads faster)

—Unite under same message

—Other examples? #NoDAPL, #MeToo

Rhetorical Affordances

Hashtags rhetorically constitute publics in digital space, allow text to circulate digitally

—Open-ended too!

—Hashtags require OTHER TEXT TOO (other messages attached)

—Pictures, video

Rhetorical functions…

(1) Brings people together

(2) Spread response

Good…Creates discussion, can create awareness..Can facilitate action outside of social media

Bad…Retaliatory action…creates response that is often ugly, discriminatory, even if it builds on discussion


Something that can contextualize larger issue…Demonstrates multimodality (words, chant, image)

—Unite people + greater issue

Ability to recreate it…In response to specific issue but also signaled larger social movement (#BLM)


This was countering HandsUpDontShoot

—Criminalizing black youth

—Drawing attention to racist stereotype re: black youth w/r/t pants sagging

Also used to facilitate action (purchase of guns to “defend” selves from PoC)


What’s true about hashtags is true of other forms of writing

—Action // Reaction….Public // Counterpublic


Also, some general blurbs about memes

1.) Not just internet based!

Memes, in fact, are bound up in processes of “cultural production and transmission”; they are “contagious patterns of ‘cultural information’ that get passed from mind to mind and directly generate and shape the mindsets and significant forms of behavior and actions of a social group”

ii.) Roots in Biology!

Memes have conceptual origin over 80 years ago in biology

—More recently popularized by Richard Dawkins who discusses memes as “substantial evolutionary model of cultural development and change grounded in the replication of ideas knowledge, and other cultivation information through imitation and transfer” (200)

iii.) Three qualities of memes (Knobel and Lankshear 2007)

Fidelity = qualities that allow it to be “readily copied and passed”

Fecundity = rate at which idea or pattern is copied; this also refers to “susceptibility” with regard to “timing or location”

Longevity = “the longer a meme survives, the more it can be copied”

iv.) Online?

— What are memes online?

—Knobel and Lankshear say that they “[describe] the rapid uptake and spread of a particular idea presented as a written text, image, language ‘move,’ or some other unit of cultural ‘stuff’” (202)


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