Since their demonstration back in 2015 and their later ensuing legal battle with the university that they lost, the UAlberta Pro-Life group has remained fairly quiet. There’s been a variety of articles condemning their approach to spreading their message, but recently we’ve seen them adopt meme tactics that have become oh-so-common among alt-right and fascist groups. This isn’t to claim the UAlberta Pro-Life group is either alt-right or fascist; however, using memes to shift political discourse isn’t a tactic limited to right-wing radicals.
As a form of communication, internet memes are fairly young, first becoming popularized in the 1990’s. They were shaped by the people who frequented the internet the most: millennials. Many millennials see memes as an extension of our generation. This can be problematic since, for many of us, memes are a familiar form of media; we trust them. When someone puts information in a meme, we become more likely to believe it because it’s couched in humor, making us comfortable and less on-guard.
This aspect of memes has been exploited by sinister forces. We saw on a massive scale how Russian influencers, trolls, and bots used memes as an information tool to disrupt the American election. Again, this isn’t to suggest that UAlberta Pro-Life is anything as sinister as Russian espionage, but the intent — to covertly shift discourse around a political topic — is the same.
The abortion debate in Canada ended years ago, with the Supreme Court of Canada nullifying the law prohibiting abortions in 1988. For the most part, society, and even the federal Conservative Party have accepted the closure of the debate. By using memes in recruitment and on their Facebook page, groups like UAlberta Pro-Life are seeking to both subvert the information out there about abortion and make themselves seem friendlier and in-touch. This is part of a larger national movement by anti-abortion groups to try and influence the next federal election by making themselves appear palatable and thus re-open the abortion debate.
Yet the group itself hasn’t changed. No one from the group has condemned or apologized for the demonstration, the information they distribute to folks is still wrong (aborting a fetus is not like beheading a baby), and they continue to ignore the damage that re-prohibiting abortion could do to women’s lives. It’s important that we scrutinize the information we see displayed in their memes. This is true for local groups like UAlberta Pro-Life and any other source of memes one might have. It’s essential to always look for sources, research whatever is presented, or to hold claims in perpetual doubt. The risk otherwise is being deceived by the very tool of communication we’ve come to adore.
So while UAlberta Pro-Life’s memes may seem innocent and cute, don’t let them deceive you into believing that their messaging is either of those things.