How Memes Are Destroying Our Political Culture, making us stupid, and political parties are taking advantage

The title is a mishmash of two from different articles featured on this page. The first article contained meme pictures which will not be shown, but have brief descriptions.



A Brief History of Memes and How They’re Destroying Our Political Culture

By Justin Adams - November 29, 201515951 0

LOLcats. Scumbag Steve. All Your Base Are Belong To Us. One Does Not Simply. If you have any idea of what I’m talking about, congratulations. You are fluent in “the Internet.” Actually that’s not even true. It only means you’re fluent in the 2010 dialect of the Internet.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, or don’t know what a “meme” is, let me explain. (For the rest of you who already know what a meme is, you can skip the next few paragraphs).

A “meme” is a cultural artifact that spreads throughout a population. For example, a meme of the 1990s would be Pokémon cards. In a short amount of time, they became extremely popular, thanks to word-of-mouth, children’s natural drive to conform and, of course, marketing.

Since the rise of the Internet and, particularly, social media, however, the word “meme” has come to apply to artifacts of the Internet culture. If the Internet is a community, then memes are the running inside jokes that the community shares. They are highly derivative, self-referential, simple and designed to entertain.

Here are a few examples:


good guy greg.jpg

one does not.jpg

How do memes get produced? The most efficient explanation is through a comparison to the drug trade. Memes are traditionally spawned on the dark side of the Internet that is “4chan.” It’s basically the Internet’s meth lab. You don’t want to go there. There’s a lot of messed-up stuff that goes on. But every once in a while, it will produce something the general public can consume. Thus, a meme is born.

At this point the meme is picked up by sites like 9gag, Imgur, Reddit and Memebase. These are the Internet’s drug dealers when it comes to memes. They’re much more friendly and safe to use than going straight to the source. They don’t produce. They just distribute.

Where do they distribute to? Facebook. The aging social media site where your grandma is most likely to be, if she’s on the Internet at all. This is how we end up with those disastrous scenarios where during Thanksgiving dinner, Grandma asks you what “Netflix and Chill” means.

grandma 2.jpg

This is the meme industry. It looks different today than it did four or five years ago and will surely look vastly different another few years down the road.

Now that we’ve laid a foundation of some basic context surrounding the meme culture, we can start talking about how these seemingly innocuous cultural artifacts are slowly but surely destroying our society.

The problem began when, one day, some think-tank, political advisor or campaign manager said, “Hey, the kids sure do like those things with the pictures and the words on them. Let’s try reaching younger voters through that.” Thus, the political meme was born.

We all have that one person (usually several people) on our Facebook feeds who takes it upon themselves to share multiple political memes each and every day. Every time a controversial event happens or there’s a divisive issue in the news, all kinds of people make their opinion known by sharing political memes.

While it’s good that people are at least engaging in some form of ideological debate, the exchange of political memes is just about the worst possible way of doing so.

What’s the problem with them? First, they’re made by some random Joe-Shmoe on the Internet. While that’s fine for memes created for entertainment, the fact that people’s political ideologies are being formed by content being produced by someone with no obligation to factual accuracy is problematic.

Second, political memes thrive on over-simplifying a given topic. Serious debates and international conflicts are complicated issues that can’t be properly analyzed in one JPEG’s worth of space, but that doesn’t stop people from trying anyways.

Third, political memes often seem more interested in showing why their opponents are stupid than actually talking about any issues. Our country was built on compromises, but in our current political climate, “compromise” has almost become a dirty word. How can we expect Congress to agree on anything when we as citizens are engaging in political discourse that compares the other side to Nazis?

Let’s look at some examples.


Good example of two outright lies: the old “Obama is a secret Muslim” conspiracy, and the incorrect notion that the U.S. hasn’t done anything about ISIS.


It’s not only right-wingers who have crazy conspiracy theories.


No matter which candidate you dislike, if the only negative thing you can say about them is name calling, then your opinion is automatically invalid and you should lose the privilege to be on the Internet.


Well technically this is just a screenshot of a tweet, but it’s been shared around like it is a meme, which is sad in and of itself. But besides that, comparing a complex issue like a refugee crisis to a bowl of M&M’s is absurdly simplistic and unhelpful.

gun control.jpg

Conservatives don’t have a monopoly on the old rhetorical trick of comparing X to Y in order to prove a point about X, even though X and Y have nothing do with each other.


I get what this guy’s trying to say, but taking one picture of a recruiting center with no one outside isn’t much of a concrete argument.


The intentional pairing of a man pointing a gun at the viewer with the concept of refugees, combined with the intentionally shocking font and color is nothing less than fear-mongering and manipulation that would have made Joseph Goebbels proud.

This is just a small selection of memes found by skimming Facebook for only a few minutes. It should be noted that not all politically themed images are this terrible. There’s a long tradition of political cartoons that do a good job of making a comment on an issue in a creative way. While there are some political memes that accomplish this, they are by and large the minority.

Even better than political cartoons is actual journalism. Countless people put in a tremendous amount of effort to produce well-researched and nuanced analyses of political issues then put them online for people to read for free. If we have an uneducated electorate, it’s certainly not because we were never given the chance.

Our country’s political culture is built from the ground up. When Congress is unequivocally opposed to compromise, or when they condemn a bill for “being too long,” that is a reflection of our own divisiveness and increasingly short attention span. If we want our legislators to stop talking in sound-bytes, then maybe we should start having more serious and in-depth conversations ourselves, rather than letting the images we share on Facebook be the extent of our political activism.





OPINION: Facebook is making us stupid and political parties are taking advantage

Damien Tomlinson, Townsville Bulletin

July 25, 2017 7:24pm

THE internet has changed the world – and mostly for the better.

It has brought us closer, improved our family connections and taken commerce truly global, hurdling the old problems created by time zones, language and currency differences.

No need for what once was a household staple – volumes of encyclopaedias – as all of humankind’s knowledge is now at your fingertips 24-7.

But rather than increase the world’s intelligence, this increased reliance on technology and accessing other people’s knowledge has been quickly making us all dumber and less attentive.

This isn’t a new concept and a lot has been written on the topic (Google it!).

But I’d like to talk about how this reduction of intelligence – coupled with the dominance of social media – has affected our society and lowered the quality of politics and discourse.

Social media, a platform built on tailoring the internet to your interests, has created a vast series of echo chambers inside which everyone agrees on everything.

By “liking” people, products, groups and interests on Facebook, or following agreeable people on Twitter, these internet giants are learning everything about you and serving you up a virtual safe space.

Facebook is making people stupid, argues Townsville Bulletin deputy editor Damien Tomlinson.

When a different idea or argument pierces the chamber, anyone inside can hit the outrage button and a horde of same-thinking people will descend on the perpetrator.

Whole online communities exist in exactly this way, gleefully patting each other on the back, agreeing wholeheartedly on everything and furiously attacking anyone who doesn’t share the same view.

And we have all seen how vile the abuse can get – bullying, boycotts, disgusting abuse, threats of violence and even death threats. The internet has a way of bringing out the absolute worst in people.

You could argue the internet has actually pushed us further apart than ever, promoting shallow relationships and increasing the kind of popularity anxiety many people last experienced in the yard at primary school.

Everyone knows how easy it is to get into a barney online and you can quickly identify “trolls” who pick fights or say awful things purely to tease out a reaction and all-important attention. It’s sad.

We are so bombarded with information in this new digital age, with all its platforms, likes, shares and retweets, that we don’t actually have time to absorb much.

The numbers back this up, sadly.

Video content – the stuff that washes over you without any intelligence or engagement required – outstrips written content online by a mile.

As a writer, it’s sad to admit, but the fact is people would be more likely to watch a video of someone reading your story to them than actually read it themselves.

Marketers know they have very little time to grab your attention. Consumers are brutal and will ignore a video if it’s more than a few seconds long.

So often it is funny, viral videos or images – memes – that draw the most attention and reach the most eyeballs online.

Political parties were among the first to begin using this new medium to reach large numbers of inattentive, disengaged voters through humour.

A modern form of propaganda, we now see memes being used by everyone from the major parties to media organisations and political activist groups.

Memes were used by unions in the 2015 state election to great effect in attacking the Newman campaign and again during the federal election last year.

Donald Trump’s critics and supporters launch volleys of them at each other online every day.

The Daily Telegraph reported last week that the Australian Labor Party’s NSW state conference at the end of the month will feature a talkfest on “the importance of political memes”, hosted by Senator Sam Dastyari.

It reportedly followed a specialist meme workshop being staged at a recent Australian Council of Trade Unions conference.

The Libs are also working on their social media strategy.

I suppose it is interesting that political discourse has taken this turn but for me it is disappointing and reflective of the downside of mass communication and connectedness that the internet has brought us.

The onslaught of memes – and their unarguable effectiveness – shows political strategists have accepted that no one listens, watches or reads anything any more and the only way to get a message out is basically through humour.

I would suggest this is part of the reason electors today tire so quickly of political parties, politicians and modern politics.

Social media allows us all to engage in politics, but at such a shallow level that public debate is dominated by trending topics rather than substantive policy.

Would John Howard have survived 24-hour news cycles, opinion posing as news, merciless satire and memes? What about Paul Keating?

The Buzzfeeds and Junkees of the world – which have no budget for journalism and rely on clever kids to write humorous, clickbaity “content” to attract views to advertisers – would have torn them to shreds.

Unless we as voters inform ourselves better and demand more substance from our politicians, the frustration with politics at all levels will only grow.


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