Memes can create an extremely damaging view of politics

In Opinion
There is a meme of a girl with a red jacket walking away as a guy checks out the girl in the red jacket and his girlfriend looks angry with him. The girl in the red jacket is labeled "memes", the guy is label "American citizens" and the girlfriend is labeled "healthy political discourse."
(Photo Illustration by Dominique Villamor)

With just a quick search on Google, the wonderful world of memes presents a large bounty of content regarding President Donald Trump and his time in office. But while comparing Trump to an orange Cheetos puff may be humorous; it’s superficial and shows a fairly shallow understanding of politics.

Political memes hinder civil discourse by diluting debate and arguments to uninformed mudslinging, and promote obtuse views of Trump’s policy and social issues, which can create an extremely damaging and absurd view of politics.

Whether it’s his love for Kanye West or his questionable diet choices, Trump always finds himself in a ridiculous meme that promotes the views of either Democrats or Republicans.

People don’t take the time to gain a better understanding of political issues that go beyond humor and amusement, and would rather remain ignorant of a more accurate political reality.

Most people just aren’t interested in real news anymore and only look for what is trending on a day-to-day basis. Thirty percent of adults in the U.S. get news from Facebook, and this percentage is even higher with the younger demographic. It was found that 7 percent of people using Facebook “run into news content” while scrolling aimlessly.

This is a problem, because the younger generation is no longer looking for what’s important, but sees only what is at the top of their social media feeds. Social media and memes don’t do a sufficient job explaining America’s complicated political system, and don’t provide enough content to be considered substantial, with only 15 percent of news on Facebook consisting of government and political coverage.

Particularly for audiences who are barely following politics, memes can end up promoting a groupthink mentality that only reinforces bipartisan party ideas.

As politics become more polarized, it’s difficult to develop a unique opinion online without being swallowed by the animosity of either party. As a result, it’s become difficult for audiences to gain a thorough understanding of Trump’s political stances and the severity of political polarization if a situation is dumbed down to an absurd meme account.

Perhaps what’s been most damaging about memes in politics is the fact that the self-described “alt-right” memes have fostered a truly upsetting and violent interpretation of what’s been happening politically.

Last October, a series of bomb threats were sent out to CNN headquarters and Democratic leaders. As was later discovered, bomb suspect Cesar Sayoc owned a van filled with stickers of political memes and photos in support of Trump and his views.

Looking into his social media accounts, Sayoc also tweeted a meme that falsely said survivor David Hogg didn’t go to Stoneman Douglas High School and that he was paid by George Soros to be a protestor, according to The Associated Press.

Though memes are supposed to be seen as jokes — satires and parodies of politics and daily lives — they have impact on people’s views, whether that was their intended purpose or not.

The World News Bureau is an example of a website that wishes to spread the use of different memes for the purpose of entertainment. Its most prominent memes include edited Trump tweets supporting “alt-right” views.

Most recently one in response to the bomb threats towards CNN and Democratic leaders read, “It appears the bombers has been caught. While I’m relieved, I won’t lie — I was kind of hoping he’d take another run at Maxine Waters and Robert DeNiro. Just kidding. #seriousasaheartattack.”

This conservative satire site was recently brought to light for the general public to see after its affiliation with the recent bomb threats against CNN and Democratic leaders. One of its memes was seen attached to a bomb directed toward CNN displaying a parody of an ISIS flag with women in provocative poses and the phrase “Get Er Done” displayed on it.

Though World News Bureau cannot and should not be blamed or persecuted for the alleged acts of Cesar Sayoc, they are an example of how memes can be used for agendas other than comedy and reinforcing political views.

Memes can become sinister and damaging to society because people who hold extremist views hold these political hyperbolistic jokes to heart. Making political memes that inspire hate normalizes these views and desensitises people to those that hold them.

There needs to be a line drawn between humor and hatred, and distinctions between entertainment and our political institutions.

People need to go beyond memes and social media to be a part of politics in America, to go beyond the hate and mudslinging that we are all too familiar with in this day and age because it’s making a real life impact on how we view politics, and not for the better.

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