Cassandra has moved. Ugo Bardi publishes now on a new site called "The Seneca Effect."

Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Making of Greta Thunberg: Memetic Weapons for the Meme War

If I say that this young lady, Greta Thunberg, is a meme I mean no disrespect for her -- we all are memes! Actually, I think she is a great girl. But the story of how this particular meme was pushed up into becoming an important feature of the planetary memesphere is teaching us so much of how our world works. And how fundamental is memetics as a science. Truly, read on. You'll learn of things you wouldn't have suspected existed!!

Ladies and Gentlemen, first of all, let me introduce to you the study on memetics performed by myself and these two wonderful coworkers of mine, Sara Falsini and Ilaria Perissi. Everyone loves their own brainchild and I do love mine (ours): so, allow me to say that this work may be the first (at least one of the first, I believe) that uses system dynamics for the quantitative study memetics (many have made qualitative connections). Maybe it will open up a whole new field of study, but let me tell you this story.

So, what is a meme? A meme is a meme is a meme (as Gertrud Stein never said): a wonderful concept! Think of the blind crocodiles in sewers of New York, that was a pre-internet meme. Or, for a more recent one, "Obama was not born in the US." A meme is not just an idea, but an idea that reproduces itself -- analogous to the gene in biology. It was invented by Richard Dawkins in 1976 and he probably didn't suspect what can of memes he was opening.

Later on, Daniel Dennett said, "a human being is an ape infested with memes." Now, pause a moment to think of this sentence: isn't it wonderful? One of those sentences you look at, you pause for a moment to think about, and then -- poof! -- your view of the world is changed. The beauty of the universe is that you can keep learning new things and, boy, there are so many!

The point of memes is that they can "go viral" in the memesphere -- the Web -- you know this already. But what makes memes go viral? Well, there comes the fascinating thing we discovered in our paper: in biology, there is only one way to go viral: by infection. In memetics, there are two ways. One is the properly viral mode, that is, with the virus jumping from a host to another. The other is the "fallout" mode - it is like when an atomic weapon kills people by radiations -- everyone is affected at the same time. Here is the description we give in our paper

In the present study, for the first time, we discuss and compare the birth of a meme and its dynamic propagation both on the internet and in mass media environments. To grasp this fundamental difference in the meme’s origin, we built simple and intuitive models, with the system dynamic (SD) methods. SD models are particularly useful in representing the structure of complex systems, especially the non-linear systems, in which the properties-of-the-whole system are different from the properties that characterize the system’s constituent elements so that the behaviour of the whole cannot be explained in terms of a combination of the behaviour of the single parts. The result of our study reveals that the origin of a meme can be due to two different activities: internet propagation or media bombardment.
 ... memes have characteristics that genes do not have. In particular, memes can be “planted” in the mediasphere using a top-down mechanism based on scattershot diffusion on the part of the mass media. This behaviour can be seen as parallel to that of the radioactive cloud generated by a nuclear incident. The distinction between these two mechanisms can be useful to understand whether a specific meme is the result of a “natural” interest of the public that derives from its special virtues or has been diffused as a top-down operation designed to influence the public or the consumers of a specific product.

And here we are: looking directly into the belly of the great beast that is the memesphere -- the great cauldron of human thought as it boils, it quivers, it festers in the giant ecosystem we call the World Wide Web. And we can see the birth of the little beasts we call memes. Some grow by infecting one node after the other, some by being pushed from above: by that giant beast infecting the memesphere, what we call the "media" or the "mainstream media" (MSM). And what the MSM want to grow, grows.

Let me show first at a meme that grew virally: "Gangnam Style" (you remember the Korean song, popular a few years ago). Here it is, fitted with the system dynamics model

But you don't need a quantitative model to note how the viral propagation mode shows a typical exponential growth mode at the beginning: here is the same meme, Gangnam, on a different scale. It has an induction time -- it is clear. It grew by infecting one node after another, just like biological viruses do with cells.

That's not the case for a fallout mode meme. It has no induction time: it is born instantly, pushed by the MSM. Here is an example, Bataclan, the terror attacks in Paris, in 2015.

You see? No induction time. It grows from zero to the maximum in no time.

But we were speaking about Greta Thunberg, right? What kind of meme is she? Well, let's look for her memetic essence on Google Trends, and there you go:

You see how quick is the growth of the meme? It is a fallout mode, not a grassroots mode. Not so sharp as for Bataclan others but, clearly, there was some force pushing her on the Web.

But this was obvious from the beginning. We know exactly where the Greta Thunberg meme comes from: it is a creation of a Swedish company called "We Don't Have Time." The story is told by Cory Morningstar, and also by Nicolas Casaux, I haven't checked all the details, but these descriptions make sense to me, especially in view of the curve from Google trends. In short, Greta Thunberg is a memetic weapon.

That doesn't mean we should share Cory Morningstar's criticism. After all, the relation of Greta Thunberg and the company called "We Don't Have Time" is open for everybody to see -- it is no secret. Besides, the enemies of humankind are using the same memetic weapons, but in secrecy. Look at this

Yes, Climategate, the famous "scandal" that purportedly proved that all the world's scientists had formed a conspiracy to invent a non-existing danger for their personal advantage. Look at how fast the curve grows: there is almost no induction time. Not a grassroots emergence, someone has been pushing this meme. The MSMs were immediately involved to diffuse something that, in itself, was just boring: who would have cared about the personal messages that some scientists had exchanged? But who was that "someone" pushing? We don't know -- and probably we never will. The dark side of the memesphere fights against humankind and they use memetic weapons.

So, folks, this is a memetic war that we are fighting. We are fighting for our survival and we need weapons: no war in history was ever won using just moral superiority. If Greta Thunberg is a memetic weapon, then she is a good meme, created for a good purpose. And let's go on and fight.

h/t Philippe Gauthier and Nicolas Casaux


  1. As or more important to our predicament is the fact that we are increasingly told what meme we should care about and the really important memes are removed from circulation permanently.

    Also part of this is the fact that the population has been systematically stripped of their ability to think critically and ask "does that meme even make sense?".

  2. Great idea for an app! Like dowsing for influence! 8)

    Seriously, this approach helps winnow wheat from chaff... not that it is a truth detector, but rather an agenda detector.

    Dave Z

    1. Yes, it helps a lot. And wait for the next post, it will be about 9/11!!!

  3. Some fallout mode memes, like "Russia interfered in USA elections", have a very long maximum amplitude time, like square wave. This kind of meme, if induced with malicious motives, have extremely destructive potential. This is the kind of meme that serves the purpose to prepare public for planned attack against Russia. Similar kind of meme was pushed against Serbia two decades before WW1 by the K+K printed media. K+K prepared public by malicious newspaper comments against Serbia long before the war started. (There are books about that but you don't speak Serbian). K+K wanted war and prepared public for it.

    1. Too bad that I don't speak Serbian, but I can understand the story very well. BTW, I'll be giving a talk in Belgrade on March 18!

    2. K und K is Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. It had two parts, Austrian (Keiser) and Hungarian (Konig), hence K und K = Keiser und Konig (Emperor and King). Although Serbia was small and poor country, K+K had delusion that it can rise and become dangerous for K+K interests. That's why they developed plan for "preventive attack". That's the same delusion that USA now has, they fear that Russa can become too powerful and plan to attack it.

  4. Mr Bardy, you are a surprise box.

    I will not miss the 9/11 for nothing in the world, I have to tell you that I am one of the conspiranoics who do not believe the official version but I am aware of being easily permeable to propaganda.

    Thank you

    1. We are all sensible to propaganda, alas... About the 9/11, the memetic analysis can't really solve the many questions related to it, also because it occurred outside the Google Trends range. But some hints, yes....

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  6. i.m.h.o., Greta Thunberg is a mixed meme. I myself helped propagate it in the old node-to-node-fashion, and so did many others.

  7. A very exciting idea. You came close with "fallout" mode, but it's actually "bioweapon" mode. Natural pandemics start from a single point and spread, but bioweapons are released at multiple points at the same time for maximum effect.

  8. Everything about We Don't Have Time is true, but that began in August. Look at Google Trends again, but for the whole world during a shorter time period. You can see that all four surges in Google searches are correlated with Greta Thunberg doing things in real life. The first one (30 november, when it really takes off) is caused by the school strikes all over the world. Then her COP24 speech, her appearance in Skavlan (Swedish-Norweigan talkshow) and her Davos speech, in that order. Of course it was all r e p o r t e d by the big media outlets, but not pushed by force. Also, you shouldn't forget the millions of shares on social media, especially on Facebook. That seems more like the grassroots mode of dispersion to me. It would be more accurate to classify Greta Thunberg as a "mixed meme", as Dominik Lenné points out.

    1. Yes, of course Ms. Thunberg had a life even before being incarnated as the meme she is now.

    2. Yes, she is being organically incarnated as a meme, not created by someone. There is no evidence for that. She got the idea of a school strike from an ordinary Swedish activist. We Don't Have Time visited her during the first strike, having made no contact beforehand. It did not result in any meme propagation at all. She has become a memetic weapon, sure, but by a process very different from the creation of climategate.

  9. Fascinating. A means to detect if a meme grows organically or is pushed. I will argue as fun as this is the usefulness is limited. The reason I say that is that we should always be looking at such things and we don't need a graph to do it. We should be able to peek down the rabbit hole on our own.

    We should consider how information is spreading and develop the skill to ask the question why are they telling us this and why. Where did this information come from as a reflex. Trust no one, at least easily.

  10. OT but interesting in the over use of resources context:

  11. I am surprised no one has mentioned Stuart Scott (e.g., in connection with the December spike in Google searches. The first of several press briefings at COP24 is at (reading some of there comments there is also informative). Stuart arranged Greta's attendance at COP24.

    Rob Moir (also connected with sends out a monthly email, which typically includes several links, to a few thousand recipients worldwide. Of the 13 videos linked in the 2 February email, four included Greta Thunberg at COP24: Greta Thunberg School Strike for Climate; Greta and Svante Thunberg Straight Talk; Greta Thunberg, Nils Agger, & Liam Geary Baulch Extinction Rebellion; and Greta Thunberg & Marten Thorslund We Don't Have Time.

    In the one-hour podcast at Stuart Scott in the segment starting at 17:15 explains how Greta Thunberg got to COP24.

  12. I was also positive about Greta until I read this thorough analysis Ugo...
    Higly recommend it what is behind the whole "We do not have time" narrative which democrats and the UN are endorsing... It is another bullet from the Corporate-NGO complex and behind that in my view, and as I talked about in a past post in our blog, scientists like Johan Röcstrom have been supporting... The idea that geoingeneering at a massive scale is both feasible and desirabe

    I talk about the whole geoengineering thing here based on the Carbon Roadmap presented at the past San Francisco Summit by Röcstrom and the Carbon Roadmap -->



    1. I was cheered by the child and by the kids in my own country. But ... personally I doubt geo-engineering will get the money. Nor much else in the next two or three decades, or beyond for that matter. And I don't see aggregate industrial civilisation shrinking that much over the shorter time span except when and if supply of day to day resources can't stay profitable enough to maintain economic momentum. Therefore no 'big' collapse in sight; rather bumpy if declining plateau depending on location, lots of continuing collateral damage from both the industries directly and from their decline, for those kids' lifetime.

      Don't get me wrong - lots of renewables and insulation and social amelioration is called for, whatever, and investment in 'low-tec'.

      It seems from both the data and the models we have only just seen the beginning of climate effects, and these are going to go on a very long time well beyond these children’s future. This is a big pulse in the system

      What bothers me just now from the memes is an echo from the past. What was it called, 'The Children’s Crusade'?

      Phil H

    2. Not that it matters much, but I could make my point clearer. If industrial economic growth stalls in the next few years, which seems likely enough, a lot of proposals for technological solutions are likely not to get built. We see this perhaps already for new nuclear power in the 'mature' economies of OECD, as exemplified in Britain currently. 'Clean coal' could well be another that does not happen. I suspect 'geoengineering' will not get funded.
      Nevertheless, I see no sudden collapse of industrial civilisation worldwide - although recessions, or indeed severe economic depressions are on the cards.

  13. Some might find this interesting:

  14. Absolutely fascinating! It is an eye-opening experience, and I thank you for it. The importance for just Psychology takes my breath away. It will help to "clarify" and we sorely need clarifications.

    Now, brass tacks, I have to get a copy and am working my way through that...



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)