Make Lulz, Not War: How Online Remix and Meme Culture are Empowering Civic Engagement in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam

In: Asiascape: Digital Asia
Patrick E. Sharbaugh Centre of Communication & Design, RMIT University Vietnam 702 Nguyen Van Linh Blvd., District 7, Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam

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Dang Nguyen Centre of Commerce & Management, RMIT University Vietnam

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Although social media platforms have garnered much attention in recent years for their putative role in dramatic social and political movements around the world, scholars such as Clay Shirky and Ethan Zuckerman have suggested that the real potential of such tools for change exists in the way they empower citizens to publicly articulate and debate an array of conflicting views throughout society. In this view, social media matters most not in the streets and squares but in the social commons that Jürgen Habermas termed the public sphere. New image-based social media platforms and creative practices in Vietnam appear to be emerging as powerful tools in this regard, offering a voice to a citizenry who, since 1975, have lived under an authoritarian, and not clearly delineated, legal order restricting the opinions and views eligible for public expression.

In 2013, Vietnamese netizens turned to the digital techniques of remix and memetic culture to indirectly express and debate sentiment on issues of often sensitive social and political relevance. Using two recent case studies, we argue that this widespread practice constitutes a culturally-specific form of civic and political engagement that appears to be exerting a subtle but real influence upon the state in this rapidly developing Southeast Asian nation.

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