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Impact of the Internet Meme on Politics and Political Participation

2397 words (10 pages) Essay in Politics

08/02/20 Politics Reference this

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In the contemporary world, the internet has taken an incredible place in our society. It has changed the way we communicate, particularly on social media which continue to dictate our new media technologies. The rapid growth of social media perhaps increases the rate of public participation by providing a common discussion platform for us to share our opinions with millions of other people. However, the progression of digital space has led to the development of its subgroups and laughs in digital space. Many sources of humor originate from the “Internet Meme” which appears insignificant on the surface level but has a deeper meaning for people who creates them, and for their intended audiences. The slogans and images that were once paired as a form of viral propaganda in early WW1 and WWII are now being progressed into “political memes.” The ability of memes to spread out an idea, expression or propaganda has resulted in the usage of these memes in a political context. Therefore, this attracts not only the politically active people but also persuades a nonpolitical active member to engage and share their opinion on political discussion.

While the usage of political memes has taken politics to a new level, the tactic of pairing images and slogans to gain public interest have been noticed during the wartime. The war posters displaying important propagandas helped government convey their messages effectively to the public in the past.

Wartime and propagandas

During World War 1 many different governments used their strategy in developing wartime posters to gain support from their citizens. It was the first time when the facts were being converted into posters to persuade citizen to be patriotic towards their country. Since the visual has more impact on people, many politicians were creating many different posters with a slogan to convince them to engage into the war by joining the military, donating food, or funding in any sort financial means. These posters were carefully created to evoke an emotional feeling towards their country that might help the nation to win the war. “I want you for U.S army” poster by James Flagg for instance, was created during 1971 to devote patriotism within the youth of the nation.

Figure 1

An American patriotic believed in his youth of the nation and developed the poster above based on English war hero, Herbert Horati Kitchener (Uncle Sam). A poster that worked more as propaganda by calling out on its citizens for their responsibility toward the country. I believe that mixing an image with a forceful gesture created a sense of higher calling for the people of the nation. It created an emotional feeling and obligation for the readers to serve their country but wasn’t entirely effective. While the text on the image suggests a sense of responsibly and sacrifice through a common interest of winning the war yet, still failed to win the full support from its citizens of the nation. The Propagandas was highly visual and impacted an individual emotionally, but they weren’t able to circulate its message on a national level. Many people, this was something new which made them more skeptical about government newfound power of engaging people into war. For some citizens, these posters were generating hate towards other countries, and for some others, it was believed to be a political tactic to gain political needs. 

However, this was just the beginning of mobilizing the mass through propaganda. While the posters in World War 1 were focused on engaging people to serve their country, the propaganda in World War 2 focused more on secrecy. During the time of war, many posters were created to encourage their nation to remain silent on sharing information about the military in public. The government at time believed that discussing in public could leak information to their enemy and could cause severe consequences to the nation. Therefore, to persuade people on secrecy, “I’m counting on you” poster reappeared by the same English war hero, Herbert Horati Kitchener (Uncle Sam).


Figure 2

This time in the visual poster, Uncle Sam appeared to move his finger from pointing to the readers to his lips, making a significant gesture to remain silent on war discussions. The expression of his facial features, with a trusting and robust look, revealed readers to the same sense of trust and responsibly as a citizen. The softened appearance was convincing enough for people to feel relied upon and gained confidence as a collective. The artist who created this poster as a form of propaganda made sure to evoke the feeling of loyalty among the citizen. The expressions of uncle Sam added an element to which viewers viewed it to be unethical to betray the trust of government. However, this time these propagandas worked out better during the world war 2 when compared with the posters of world war 1. During WWII, “stay silent” propagandas were simple and gave essentials details written on the poster itself to remain silent. Including crucial specification – Ship sailing, troop movements, and war equipment’s were particularly specified on the posters to keep in private. These posters led to public awareness within the nation, which developed desire among citizens to better re4cognize nationalism and participate in a civic activity during wartime.

War posters and slogans issued by the government were perceived as positively useful in the past. Posters were being used as a form of propaganda which was something people weren’t aware of during World War 1 and 2. Nevertheless, the war ended, but some politicians now are still using the same techniques which were once used by the government in the past. Many Americans politicians now are turning propaganda into “memes,” using the same method of paring slogans and images.

Internet memes and politics

For many years’, politicians have been using various tactics to spread their opinions and ideas to a citizen of the nation, nearly decades later political parties continue to influence citizens in today’s digital world. The world that is dominated by the internet, in particular, social media is a vital form of communication in our current society. The rapid growth of social media perhaps has changed the way we communicate and hence increased the involvement of the public in participation on social media. Social media provides a common discussion platform that makes it easier for people to share their opinions with millions of other people. However, the progression has led to the development of its communication category famously known as “Internet Meme.” A meme that is simple, visual, humorous and sometimes factual is a new language that is used in term of communication on social media.

Nevertheless, these easily accessible and shareable internet memes might appear insignificant on the surface level but contain a deeper meaning for people who creates them, and for their intended audiences. It creates an environment that makes it possible for citizens to have an active and subjective relationship with the government. The Internet has a large number of political parties that are governing both political and non-political citizens. The interactivity in social media allows politics to engage with people through memes.

A meme that is an idea, statement, propaganda or expression is edited with political content for people to engage more in politics. However, the circulation of memes begins on some of the popular social media websites including – Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter. These are some of the sites which are famous for connecting people with each other. These websites are made up to connect people with their friends, social circles, or a common interest group. Twitter, for instance, is crammed up with hundreds of influencers who are followed by millions of people because of their position with the digital world. It is an environment that is complex yet is most suitable for political leaders. These politically influenced meme creators carefully evolved first image and slogan paring into memes – that are accessible, factual, humorous and attracts all kinds of citizens. The political members of digital society could firstly follow the process of circulation, then gradually move on to non-political members.

Now, more and more people get their news on digital networking sites like – Facebook and Twitter. The increasing number of web traffic makes it possible for these websites to attract political parties, who carefully select multiple images and alters them with humor and political content. How so ever, these memes are successfully engaging nonpolitical members into politics in numerous ways such as; offering both political and non-political citizens to express their views to the public without any cost. Moreover, people are more engaging because it permits people to explain their opinions on politics with a casual, yet popular approach. Secondly, social media works in a way that facilitates an individual to connect and share its thoughts with friends, family, and sometimes strangers. When a political meme is published or shared by an individual, it is believed that one or the other follower, friend or a family member would most likely be convinced to re-share the meme that further boost up the circulation of internet memes. Also, it was noticed that when a public figure who has a decent amount of the following post or repost any meme regarding politics tends to influence its followers that results in making a meme viral in digital space. Unlike Wartime posters these meme creators are adding various elements that make these memes more relatable to the public. Sometimes people just find a political meme interesting because of its virality on internet space. A creative visual image is known to have more impact on people, as it connects them on an emotional level and makes it extremely easy for them to take part in political discussions and allows them to subject an expression without any fear of censorship.  Lastly, an act of creating a meme could be done by replicating an existing image. Many meme creators are known to reproduce original pictures that could be still images from a current political event or a piece of news. This kind of replication of an actual image appears more appealing to a non-political citizen who are usually disinterested in traditional political involvement. For instance, “The Pepper Spray Cop” meme was alerted from an original image to covey and spread a simple piece of information on the current event that eventually started a political movement to gain justice.

Figure 4

Figure 3

The pepper spraying incident that occurred in UC Davis during a protest and sparked a large amount of attention all around the country. However, the creator of meme altered the still image of this horrific event by adding humorous content and turning the event into a meme. For some, this might be silly, but this alteration has helped spread the word about the event. This meme expresses the exploitation of powerless citizen who is facing policy brutality which appealed more to aggravating the people of the nation and was further turned into a political movement to gain justice.

Conclusion and further discussion

    Since World War 1 and World War 2, many political parties are seen paring images and slogans to influence the citizen of the nation. With the increased use of social media and internet memes, it is now possible for a non-political citizen to participate in political discussion and express their views on sensitive topics. While most of the political meme is meant to be humorous on the surface level, but in actual it could anger people and spark a political movement. However, while this paper explains the benefits of memes, one question that remained unanswered in this research paper is delegitimization of politics by using portraying individual party negativity in memes. If one political party could create a positive image for itself through a meme, then, in contrast, could be attacked by its opposition who could negatively portray a political representative and could turn a false statement into a believable truth through creating a meme and making it viral on the social media.


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