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Tag: collective intelligence

The power of networks: distributed journalism, meme warfare, and collective intelligence

These are the slides for what was perhaps my favorite lecture so far in BCM112. The lecture has three distinct parts, presented by myself and my PhD students Doug Simkin and Travis Wall. I opened by building on the previous lecture which focused on the dynamics of networked participation, and expanded on the shift from passive consumption to produsage. The modalities of this shift are elegantly illustrated by the event-frame-story structure I developed to formalize the process of news production [it applies to any content production]. The event stage is where the original footage appears – it often is user generated, raw, messy, and with indeterminate context. The frame stage provides the filter for interpreting the raw data. The story stage is what is produced after the frame has done its work. In the legacy media paradigm the event and frame stages are closed to everyone except the authority figures responsible for story production – governments, institutions, journalists, academics, intellectuals, corporate content producers. This generates an environment where authority is dominant, and authenticity is whatever authority decides – the audience is passive and in a state of pure consumption. In the distributed media paradigm the entire process is open and can be entered by anyone at any point – event, frame, or story. This generates an environment where multiple event versions, frames, and stories compete for produser attention on an equal footing.

These dynamics have profound effects on information as a tool for persuasion and frame shifting, or in other words – propaganda. In legacy media propaganda is a function of the dynamics of the paradigm: high cost of entry, high cost of failure, minimum experimentation, inherent quality filter, limited competition, cartelization with limited variation, and an inevitable stagnation.

In distributed media propaganda is memes. Here too propaganda is a function of the dynamics of the paradigm, but those are characterized by collective intelligence as the default form of participation in distributed networks. In this configuration users act as a self-coordinating swarm towards an emergent aggregate goal. The swarm has an orders of magnitude faster production time than the legacy media. This results in orders of magnitude faster feedback loops and information dissemination.

The next part of the lecture, delivered by Doug Simkin, focused on a case study of the /SG/ threads on 4chan’s /pol/ board as an illustration of an emergent distributed swarm in action. This is an excellent case study as it focuses on real-world change produced with astonishing speed in a fully distributed manner.

The final part of the lecture, delivered by Travis Wall, focused on a case study of the #draftourdaughters memetic warfare campaign, which occurred on 4chan’s /pol/ board in the days preceding the 2016 US presidential election. This case study is a potent illustration of the ability of networked swarms to leverage fast feedback loops, rapid prototyping, error discovery, and distributed coordination in highly scalable content production.

Swarm networks and the design process of a distributed meme warfare campaign

I am developing a paper on swarm networks and meme warfare together with Travis Wall who is a PhD student of mine. The topic is very interesting in light of the astonishing mobilization of collective intelligence across various internet forums [4chan, and Reddit in particular] during the 2016 US presidential campaign. We are focusing on a single case study – the #draftourdaughters campaign – developing in the final pre-election week on 4chan’s /pol/ forum. Ironically, some of the material we are discussing is quite contentious and therefore picking a journal to publish our piece requires some strategizing.

Swarm networks and the design process of a distributed meme warfare campaign

The 2016 US presidential elections were surrounded by a vast social media campaign, involving the phenomenon of distributed memetic warfare on a scale unseen before. #draftourdaughters was a viral memetic campaign organised and produced by anonymous members of the internet board 4chan, and then deployed to wider audiences on platforms such as Reddit, Twitter and Facebook. Memetic warfare in social media has recently been documented in case studies of the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict (Rodley 2016) and the 2014 Russia-Ukraine conflict (Wiggins 2016). These studies present and analyse the content generated by users, with a central focus on continual content remixing, and generation of semiotic messaging. In contrast, this paper aims to develop a systemic perspective of the mechanics of generation of targeted memes, by analysing the swarm like topology of 4chan’s /pol/ forum (Hine et al. 2016), and the logistics of the swarm’s rapid prototyping, coordination, production, and dissemination of content.

The paper uses as it’s case study the #draftourdaughters campaign, which is documented in its entirety from inception to completion. The anonymous conversations conceptualising the campaign, as well as the rapid prototyping and ideation process informed by the swarm’s quick feedback loop, are analysed with a conceptual apparatus informed by actor network theory, and then mapped to design process research. Concepts native to the open source movement make the foundation of the framework analysing the collaborative dynamics and production of content (Raymond 2001, Robb 2007), further developing open source remix as a fundamental mechanic to content production. Further analysis is performed using concepts from systems theory (Baran 1962), swarming in conflict scenarios (Arquilla and Ronfeldt 2000), and approaches to fourth generation warfare (Lind and Thiele 2015). The behaviour of the swarm in response to an identified goal is mapped to concepts central to design process methodology (Dubberly 2008).

The main focus of the argument is in developing a coherent and systemic perspective on the logistics of distributed memetic production in online spaces potentiating swarm-like behaviour in their user-base. The authors examine this process in its entirety, from the logistics of swarm formation to the rapid prototyping of ideas leveraging short feedback loops, and the collaborative creation of semantically targeted media. Anonymous online spaces such as 4chan are identified as environments fostering a powerful feedback loop of distributed ideation, content production and dissemination. Through examining these phenomena, the paper also provides perspective on the manifestation of collaborative design practice in online participatory media spaces.


Arquilla, J and Ronfeldt, D 2000, Swarming and the Future of Conflict, RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, viewed 9 February 2017,

Baran, P 1962, ‘On Distributed Communications Networks’, RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, viewed 9 February 2017,

Dubberly, H 2008, How Do You Design? A Compendium of Models, Dubberly Design Office, viewed 9 February 2017,

Hine, G, Onaolapo J, De Cristofaro E, Kourtellis N, Leontiadis I, Samaras R, Stringhini G, Blackburn J 2016, ‘A Longitudinal Measurement Study of 4chan’s Politically Incorrect Forum and its Effect on the Web’, viewed 9 February 2017,

Lind, W and Thiele, G 2015, 4th Generation Warfare, Castalia House

Raymond, E 2001, The Cathedral & the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary, O’Reilly, Beijing.

Rodley, C 2016, ‘When Memes Go to War: Viral Propaganda in the 2014 Gaza-Israel Conflict’, Fibreculture Journal, Issue 27, viewed 9 February 2017,

Robb, J 2008, Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization, Wiley, Hoboken

Wiggins B 2016, ‘Crimea River: Directionality in Memes from the Russia-Ukraine Conflict’, International Journal of Communication, vol 10, pp-451-485, viewed 9 February 2017,