Skip to main content

‘“Son – you’ll be a soldier one day”: reconceptualising YouTube discourses on participation in memetic warfare’


“Son – you’ll be a soldier one day”, one of thousands of comments on a YouTube video about using memes (particularly viral images) in war. Memes have grown in global importance, from their central propaganda/morale-influencing role in the War in Ukraine to political campaign conflicts around major issues to virtual ‘battles’ involving online communities. However, while citizen participation in discourses concerning conflict has been receiving increased attention, such wider participation around meme conflict remains under-explored in scholarship. The online audio-visual and textual discourse around memetic warfare is important both in understanding wider public views of conflict, and, particularly in this case, given the blurring of distinctions in which acts of speech or creating videos may themselves involve directly contributing to meme ‘warfare’. This article will aim to map emerging perceptions of this digital participation, including how views of memetic warfare are framed by particular historical analogies and tropes from popular culture. The research draws on comments of selected YouTube videos on memetic warfare. The new framework adopted may serve as a basis for future investigation of online public debates and attitudes towards memetic or other forms of technological innovation in war, such as broader definitions of cyber, drone, or space security.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


List of Videos

Secondary reading

  • Asal, Victor, Justin Conrad, and Nathan Toronto. 2015. I Want You! The determinants of military conscription. Journal of Conflict Resolution 61 (7): 1456–1481.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Aro, Jessikka. 2016. The cyberspace war: Propaganda and trolling as warfare tools. European View 15: 121–132.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Banco, Lindsey Michael. 2016. The meanings of J robert oppenheimer. Lowa: University of Iowa Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Beehner, Lionel, Lisa Brooks, and Daniel Maurer. 2020. Reconsidering american civil-military relations: the military, society, politics, and modern war. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Boichak, Olga. 2021. ‘Digital war: mediatized conflicts in sociological perspective. In The Oxford Handbook of Sociology and Digital Media, Oxford University Press, 1-19.

  • Dawkins, R. 1976. The selfish gene. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Finkelstein, Claire Oakes, Jens David Ohlin, and Kevin Govern. 2020. Cyberwar: law and ethics for virtual conflicts. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Goldenberg, Alex and Finkelstein, Joel. 2020. Cyber swarming, memetic warfare and viral insurgency: how domestic militants organise on memes to incite violent insurrection and terror against government and law enforcement (Rutgers), 1–11. Accessed 24 Nov 2021.

  • Happer, Catherine, Andrew Hoskins, and William Merrin (eds). Trump’s Media War (Palgrave Macmillan).

  • Hurt, Martin, and Tiia Sõmer. 2021. ‘Cyber conscription: experience and best practice from selected countries’ (Report, RKK: ICDS).

  • Khurshudyan, Isabelle, 2022. ‘Ukraine’s showdown with Russia plays out one meme at a time. In The Washington Post.

  • Libicki, Martin C. 2020. The convergence of information warfare. Strategic Studies Quarterly 11 (1): 49–65.

    Google Scholar 

  • Livingston, Steven, and W. Lance Bennett. 2020. The disinformation age: politics, technology, and disruptive communication in the United States. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lloyd, Ian. 2020. Information technology law. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • MacDonald, Keza, 2019. ‘We’ve seen Carl Benjamin’s rank misogyny before – remember Gamergate?. In The Guardian.

  • Margulies, Max Z., and Leah E. Foodman. 2021. Suboptimal selective service: an analysis of the obstacles to selective service reform in American political Institutions. Journal of Strategic Security 14 (2): 74–88.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McCaughey, Martha. 2014. Cyberactivism on the participatory web. New York: Routledge New York.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • McCrow-Young, Ally, and Mette Mortensen. 2021. Countering spectacles of fear: Anonymous’ meme ‘war’ against ISIS. European Journal of Cultural Studies 24: 4.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Milner, Ryan M. 2018. The world made meme: public conversations and participatory media. Cambridge: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Murthy, Dhiraj, and Sanjay Sharma. 2019. Visualizing YouTube’s comment space: Online hostility as a networked phenomena. New Media and Society 21 (1): 191–213.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Oltermann, Philip. 2021. ‘‘At first I thought, this is crazy’: the real-life plan to use novels to predict the next war’, The Guardian. Accessed 23 Nov 2021.

  • Peacock, Timothy Noël. 2020. ‘From trinity to trump: the politics of nuclear memory in the 2020 election’, U.S. Studies Online.

  • Peacock, Timothy Noël. 2021. ‘From Crossroads to Godzilla: the cinematic legacies of the first postwar nuclear tests’, The Conversation.

  • Prier, Jarred. 2017. Commanding the trend: social media as information warfare. Strategic Studies Quarterly 11 (4): 50–85.

    Google Scholar 

  • Prosser, Michael B. 2006. Memetics: A Growth Industry in U.S. Military Operations (USMC Masters Thesis).

  • Ronfeldt, David and John Arquilla. 2020. Report Part Title: ‘A pessimistic Appraisal of Today’s Turmoil for the Noosphere and Noopolitik’ (RAND Corporation), 39–49.

  • Schreckinger, Ben. 2017. ‘World War Meme: How a group of anonymous keyboard commandos conquered the internet for Donald Trump—And plans to deliver Europe to the far right.’, Politico.

  • Scott, James. 2018. Information warfare: the meme is the embryo of the narrative illusion. Berlin: Independently Published.

    Google Scholar 

  • Swift, David, and Oliver Wilkinson. 2019. Veterans of the First World War: Ex-Servicemen and Ex-Servicewomen in Post-War Britain and Ireland. Cambridge: Routledge.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Thomas, Elise. 2021. Boogaloo Bois: the birth of a ‘movement’, from memes to real-world violence. In Counterterrorism Yearbook 2021, 33–38. Barton: Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

    Google Scholar 

  • Thomas, Elise. 2020. Manifestos memetic mobilisation and the Chan boards in the Christchurch shooting. In Counterterrorism Yearbook 2020, 19–22. Barton: Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

    Google Scholar 

  • Yankosi, Michael, Walter Scheirer, and Tim Weninger. 2021. Meme warfare: AI countermeasures to disinformation should focus on popular, not perfect, fakes. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 77: 119–123.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Zakem, Vera, Megan K. McBride, and Kate Hammerberg. 2018. Exploring the utility of memes for US government influence campaigns. United States: Center for Naval Analyses Arlington.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Timothy Noël Peacock.

Rights and permissions

Springer Nature or its licensor holds exclusive rights to this article under a publishing agreement with the author(s) or other rightsholder(s); author self-archiving of the accepted manuscript version of this article is solely governed by the terms of such publishing agreement and applicable law.

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Peacock, T.N. ‘“Son – you’ll be a soldier one day”: reconceptualising YouTube discourses on participation in memetic warfare’. Digi War 3, 83–95 (2022).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: