How are memes influencing the way we receive and respond to information about social and political issues?
The term ‘meme’ was created by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins to describe an idea that organically reproduces and spreads throughout society (Cooper, 2016). Today, a meme can mean anything from phrases and photos to viral websites, videos, and parodies (Cooper, 2016). Personally, I find memes highly enjoyable. However, I am also extremely curious about how they are influencing how we receive and respond to social and political information. In approaching this question, I will use a combination of secondary sources, and primary research through surveys and interviews. Whilst this is a reflexive topic for me personally, I also believe it is something that is reflexive for all internet users, especially our generation.
In addition to indicating social attitudes, memes seem to act as a large medium for social critique and debate. The posts of Mike Melgaard, for example, went viral when he made a parody ‘Campbell’s Soup’ Facebook page to counter homophobic comments on the company’s new advertisement (Nicols, 2015). Additionally, a man’s tweet to NASA astronaut Jessica Meir, in which he tried to ‘mansplain’ space to her, went viral when people responded (Pygas, 2016). These memes were not only entertaining, but also generated mass acknowledgement and discussion of social injustices such as sexism and bigotry. These examples alone show the possibility that memes and viral content are changing how we receive and respond to information about social issues. Memes additionally seem to be influencing how we receive and respond to political events and issues. This was especially evident in the most recent American presidential election. Personally, I generally don’t read political newspapers or websites for leisure. However, the memes that were created surrounding this political event often informed me of the political event’s progression and the surrounding issues and consequences of Donald Trump’s election. These memes, whilst expressing popular social attitudes, provided me with the basic information I needed to form a response to this political issue.
Memes created about political and social events/issues may be evolving into a fundamental way of receiving and responding to information about these events/issues. As a citizen platform for information, memes also seem to be serving as indicators of popular social opinions and attitudes regarding these issues and events, whilst empowering us to build and share our own convictions. Thus, the question of their influence on how we receive and respond to information about social and political issues, is not only highly reflexive for me, but is possibly of great social importance.
Cooper, PG 2016, ‘Internet Memes’, Salem Press Encyclopedia, Research Starters, EBSCOhost, viewed 9 March 2017
Nichols, JM 2015, ‘When Bigots Freaked Out About Campbell’s Ad with Gay Dads, This Man Had A Brilliant Response’, Huffington Post, 16 October, viewed 10 March 2017, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/entry/when-bigots-freaked-out-about-campbells-ad-with-gay-dads-this-man-had-a-brilliant-response_us_561fc302e4b028dd7ea6d7f3>
Pygas, M 2016, ‘This Guy Tried To ‘Mansplain’ Space to A Female NASA Astronaut and It Didn’t Go Well’, Distractify, 9 November, viewed 9 March 2017, <http://distractify.com/trending/2016/09/09/mansplain-space-astronaut>