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Why do people share political memes? It’s not always about changing anyone’s point of view

An exclusive new poll finds more than half of Americans have shared a political meme in the last three months. Sometimes people just think they’re funny.

Why do people share political memes? It’s not always about changing anyone’s point of view
[Photo: Ott Maidre/Pexels]

Admit it. You just couldn’t resist forwarding that photo (or three) of Trump’s windblown hair accompanied by a clever catchphrase. Or some version of AOC or Speaker Pelosi looking like they’re coming for you, also accompanied by some sarcastic snipe.

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Regardless of which side of the political divide (chasm?) you currently sit—or which gender you identify with—a new Harris Poll conducted exclusively for Fast Company reveals that 55% of Americans have shared a political meme in the past three months. Broken down by platform, 90% say they’ve shared a political meme on Facebook at some point (the top spot to post among respondents), and 59% posted one on Twitter. Fifty-four percent are sharing more this year than they did last. And over a third share them daily.

This cuts across all strata of the population, including education and socioeconomic level, marital and parental status. The only apparent difference is that white and Hispanic people are slightly more inclined (52% and 45% respectively) to share a meme in comparison to African American (24%) social media users.

Yet while we’re all quite likely to do it, our reasons may surprise you.

Of the over 1,000 U.S. adults surveyed who said they’d shared something in the past three months, the most common reasons were:

  • 46% said they did so just to make sure people knew where they stood.
  • 32% percent of men and 22% of women said they did so in an effort to change people’s minds.
  • Over a third just found them funny.
  • Only 12% forwarded a meme that expressed anger, and 10% pushed one meant to strike fear in the hearts of its recipients. These numbers hold true across all segments of the population.

Why do we keep sharing? Perhaps James Gleick said it best in his Smithsonian Magazine essay back in 2011 when he compared memes to human genes:

“Memes emerge in brains and travel outward, establishing beachheads on paper and celluloid and silicon and anywhere else information can go. They are not to be thought of as elementary particles but as organisms. The number three is not a meme; nor is the color blue, nor any simple thought, any more than a single nucleotide can be a gene. Memes are complex units, distinct and memorable—units with staying power.”

Remember that next time your finger is hovering over the return key and share responsibly.

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About the author

Lydia Dishman is a reporter writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.

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