Spain’s attempt to ‘ban memes’ backfires; inspires thousands of new memes

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. Source: Facebook
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. Source: Facebook

The Spanish government’s plan to ban memes has failed spectacularly after the news prompted meme creators to unleash thousands more under the hashtag #SinMemesNoHayDemocracia – no democracy without memes.

Spain’s ruling Popular Party presented a proposal that could result in the banning of memes, aiming to curb the “spreading of images that infringe the honour of a person”. According to reports by local media, a law introduced in 1982 offers ‘protection against jokes against individuals’, but the rise of the internet has left the law in need of an update, according to politicians.

However, free speech advocates believe the proposed crackdown on memes will limit political expression, particularly as many memes in Spain focus on prime minister, Mariano Rajoy.

A member of a Spanish organization calling for free speech told reporters: “We are worried about this reform because internet does not require special laws; the same rights and duties should exist online as offline.”

“If the plan is to clamp down on any publication of images without consent of the individual, the popular activity of using memes to generate political or social criticism would become dangerous.”

However, some members of Spain’s ruling party have said that the proposal is ‘merely an idea’ at this stage, and the only memes that will be targeted as part of the crackdown are those that are “insulting, involve death threats or accuse a person of committing a crime”.

One year ago, Spain passed a controversial law that has seen individuals fined for criticising Spanish authorities on social networks. Opponents of the crackdown on memes are concerned that this law will be expanded as part of the new proposal to include memes among the list of banned content.

Memes in Spain have gained national exposure after a member for parliament was caught making a meme on his laptop during a debate. He later apologized to the subject of the meme, regional premier Cristina Cifuentes, who he used in a meme that was inspired by the Clint Eastwood character Dirty Harry.

Spanish media has reported that instead of limiting the amount of memes in production, the news of a potential ban has only served to inspire thousands more meme creators to share their work online. These new memes are almost exclusively aimed at Prime Minister Rajoy and his ruling Popular Party.

“The government’s plan has completely backfired, which is unsurprising” said one free speech advocate. “There is not practical way that memes can be banned, all it will do is draw more attention to them and make them more popular.”