If you’ve casually browsed Reddit over the last couple of days, you may have got caught in the crossfire of a goofy meme war that turned toxic.
The conflict now known as The Meme World War built up over the course of six days, and officially raged for roughly 48 hours before it petered out Wednesday morning. Redditors posting memes about Star Wars, siege engines, Spongebob Squarepants, and garlic bread dominated more than 130 subreddits, vying for position on Reddit’s hugely-trafficked “Front Page of the Internet.”
There are good faith rules for meme wars, and nearly all of them were broken during the conflict. It was originally supposed to be a “good for everyone war,” that would serve to “get great original content flowing,” r/sequelmemes moderator janbalti said in a DM. But bad behavior caused moderators to abruptly end the war on Wednesday.
It started when the popular subreddits r/prequelmemes, r/trebuchetmemes, and r/garlicbreadmemes formed an alliance, according to Reddit user observer918, who created an early shitpost of the three subreddits as Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Joseph Stalin. Then, at 2 PM EST on Monday, March 26, r/prequelmemes posted a now-deleted declaration of war against r/sequelmemes. Subreddits organized through Discord channels and rallied to spread their memes across Reddit.
The battles quickly spread as r/trebuchetmemes, r/lotrmemes, and r/garlicbreadmemes invaded the smaller r/sequelmemes subreddit with jokes about carbs, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Hobbits, and siege weapons. Wild mashups of Ewan MacGregor firing garlic bread from trebuchets shot to the top of enemy subreddits. Lurkers sprang into action to make their own original content, or at least upvote their side’s posts. It was a like a complex, free MMO that doesn’t cost money and has very few rules.
r/prequelmemes and its many affiliates started calling themselves The Allies, and r/sequelmemes became the leader of the Axis. This unfortunate historical comparison, Reddit user IoI_xD theorizes, may have helped draw so many subreddits into the Allies’ fold. The Axis rebranded as The Resistance, but the odds were already so uneven it had little effect on the outcome.
Eventually, more than 100 subreddits joined r/prequelmemes and 35 joined r/sequelmemes. The Spongebob Squarepants-themed r/bikinibottomtwitter erupted into a civil war over which side they should support, sharing their memes on subreddits from both sides. “Ninehundred-and-ninety-nine out of every thousand on here just want lighthearted fun meme exchange that we can all laugh at and enjoy,” said observer918.
If observer918's estimate is correct, it was the other 0.1 percent who used nefarious and co-ordinated attacks similar to those deployed by r/TheDonald to spread Trump memes during the 2016 presidential campaign. One of the most frowned-upon tactics used during the war was "brigading", the practice of a large subreddit downvoting a smaller one's posts en masse, sinking content that would normally do well to the bottom of the page. It's forbidden in friendly meme wars, but r/prequelmemes users brigaded r/sequelmemes for days. Later, users posting to r/memeworldwar claimed that a moderator from r/prequelmemes was doxxed, revealing details of their real life identity. Doxxing is a cardinal sin on Reddit, and some posts suggest it's why members of both sides agreed to a truce.
“[The war] went about 12 steps too far,” wrote r/prequelmemes moderator r/TheDStudge in a post announcing the end of the conflict. “This isn't about brigading or anything of the sort. We cannot go into further detail at this time.” In response to a call for information about the doxxing, the mod said it's “a rumor that everyone is treating like fact…Witch hunting is dangerous. Witch hunting when you made up a witch is even worse.”
Despite the rumored doxxing, dozens of subreddits have decided to continue the war effort without r/prequelmemes and r/sequelmemes. Subreddits such as r/exiledprequelmemers are keeping the factions alive. Others are are trying to write "The Geneva Convention of Memes," or The Memeva Convention, seeking to ban actions like doxxing, thought it's unclear how a bunch of Redditors could do more to than the US federal government, which is already investigating a ban on the practice.
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