On the Evolution of (Hateful) Memes by Means of Multimodal Contrastive Learning

Qu, Yiting and He, Xinlei and Pierson, Shannon and Backes, Michael and Zhang, Yang and Zannettou, Savvas
(2023) On the Evolution of (Hateful) Memes by Means of Multimodal Contrastive Learning.
In: 44th IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy (S&P '23), 22-25 May 2023, HYATT REGENCY, SAN FRANCISCO, CA.
Conference: SP IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy

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S&P_MemeEvolution.pdf - Published Version

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Official URL: https://www.computer.org/csdl/proceedings-article/...


The dissemination of hateful memes online has adverse effects on social media platforms and the real world. Detecting hateful memes is challenging, one of the reasons being the evolutionary nature of memes; new hateful memes can emerge by fusing hateful connotations with other cultural ideas or symbols. In this paper, we propose a framework that leverages multimodal contrastive learning models, in particular OpenAI’s CLIP, to identify targets of hateful content and systematically investigate the evolution of hateful memes. We find that semantic regularities exist in CLIP-generated embeddings that describe semantic relationships within the same modality (images) or across modalities (images and text). Leveraging this property, we study how hateful memes are created by combining visual elements from multiple images or fusing textual information with a hateful image. We demonstrate the capabilities of our framework for analyzing the evolution of hateful memes by focusing on antisemitic memes, particularly the Happy Merchant meme. Using our framework on a dataset extracted from 4chan, we find 3.3K variants of the Happy Merchant meme, with some linked to specific countries, persons, or organizations. We envision that our framework can be used to aid human moderators by flagging new variants of hateful memes so that moderators can manually verify them and mitigate the problem of hateful content online.


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