In the wake of impeachment proceedings, Trump memes have sparked like wildfire. The sentiments they share range from joy at a potential impeachment to rage at the Democrats for starting the impeachment process. But whatever the spirit of the meme, or the intent of its creator, they now play a huge role in our personal and political discourse.
Millennials, especially, see them as a way to communicate serious concerns and political views through lighter messaging. Smart candidates who understand the power of content made by voters that is easily digestible, yet powerful enough to spark action, will be better positioned not just to mobilize voters on their behalf, but also to combat false narratives and hateful rhetoric. We can also expect to see voters feel empowered by their ability to have an impact on the 2020 election by creating their own content. This makes 2020 the election year of user-generated content (UGC).
As memes have become more political, hateful examples have found their way onto mainstream social media platforms through fringe communities. These fringe communities generate racist, hateful, and politically charged memes that are shared via like minds around the internet. As we have witnessed happen on all social media and video-content platforms, fringe communities have the power to twist the meaning of memes, change their context, and make them go viral in mainstream communities. While most voters are not actively participating in this hateful speech, they often cannot help but find their own views and opinions influenced by the values of the online communities they are a part of. So, what measures can we as voters take to amplify a well-rounded, cohesive message that is impenetrable to negative attacks and misinformation for the candidate we favor?
We saw memes put into action in 2016 when members of Bernie Sanders’s Dank Meme Stash, a pro-Sanders Facebook page, created and shared memes as a way of expressing their hopes and ideals via social media. The supporters were able to spread that message to combat the negative or false memes about Sanders.
This year, Andrew Yang has “catapulted out of obscurity thanks to his followers, known as the #YangGang.” According the the New York Times, his fans have embedded Yang into memes and produced songs and music videos about his candidacy. Yang didn’t ignore them—he embraced the memes and empowered his fans to spread the message.
— Evan (@xGeneral_Taco) March 20, 2019
Advocate for your candidate through community sharing
Share memes that support your candidate through distribution channels where your community consumes and engages with content. Hillary Clinton’s campaign was finally able to attach a “cool” factor to their candidate when the website “Texts from Hillary,” the creation of two supporters of Clinton’s, featured memes of Clinton texting while wearing sunglasses. The memes were frequently shared on Facebook and Instagram groups that included communities of women with a feminist focus, reaffirming their commitment to their candidate and their determination to fight negative internet content. Don’t be afraid to create memes that make an overly serious candidate seem playful or show the more presidential side of a candidate accused of being too inexperienced.
React in real time
Delayed responses, especially in the face of disinformation attacks, can be a disaster now that media spread information far and wide immediately. Be ready to act immediately on behalf of your candidate. A great example of reacting quickly enough to neutralize negative attacks via meme is the way Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez handled it when an old video of her dancing resurfaced on the internet and was used by her critics in an attempt to make her look frivolous. AOC and her team wasted no time in responding with their own video of her dancing outside of her new congressional office. They turned her opponents’ attempt to frame her as young and silly into a chance for AOC to humanize herself and make some voters feel that she is one of them. While AOC has earned the title of “queen of the clapback,” all campaigns and supporters should be equally prepared to respond defensively and immediately via a creative meme.
I hear the GOP thinks women dancing are scandalous.
Wait till they find out Congresswomen dance too! ????????
Have a great weekend everyone 🙂 pic.twitter.com/9y6ALOw4F6
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) January 4, 2019
Create a simple but compelling message to drive the narrative organically
While not original, “Make America Great Again” remains effective because of its simplicity and because of another powerful persuasion variable: repetition. In politics, the more clearly candidates can define who they are, who their opponent is, and what’s at stake, the better they will engage the voters. And voters can help amplify their candidate’s most simple messaging and catchphrases by utilizing memes as a way of direct communication to build a level of trust and connection with the next generation of voters. This will cultivate strong messaging that will prevail against false narratives.
Rolling Egg Media was created to serve the extensive community around our platforms. Every day we witness the power of the meme. 9GAG, for example, receives 500,000 UGC submissions and over 1 billion comments per day. Memes will be created in 2020 whether the candidates want them to be or not. It is up to both the candidates and the voters to decide whether to embrace them and harness their power or reject them and risk having them unleashed anyway, in a campaign to spread disinformation or hateful rhetoric.
If as an individual voter you want to have a louder voice in this election and truly impact your candidate’s campaign, you should consider making UGC on the behalf of your candidate. While all candidates have their own social media experts, they will need an army of supporters ready and willing to unleash the power of the meme to fight disinformation and turn out the voters they need to win.
Russell Schneider is the executive vice president and head of partnerships and business development at Rolling Egg Media.