Like many in the US who are shellshocked by the 2016 presidential election, I occasionally ask myself how we, as a nation, got ourselves to this point. Regardless of your sentiments towards President Trump, I’m sure many of us can agree that no one saw this coming. It was truly breathtaking to see that many of the usual establishment pundits, despite their years of political experience, completely underestimated the appeal of a social media driven populist campaign. Trump had long ago understood something that the political pundits and establishment media were barely beginning to comprehend. He understood the power of social media and how to use it. His campaign wasn’t afraid to tap into the hearts and minds of his adamant followers, which resulted in his Twitter sharing memes and graphics created by some of his most vocal supporters. Likewise, Bernie Sanders represented the anti-establishment populist voice of the left.
Out of curiosity, I experienced first-hand the growing trend amongst young voters to centralize their organizing efforts through Facebook groups. Some of the largest political groups on facebook also acted as “dank meme” repositories where activists could share and comment on original content, discuss political theory, and act as educational hubs for newer supporters. These memes would then be spread by supporters to bring more awareness to their candidate or political issue. In essence, these memes acted as a simple yet effective form of political commentary, used to entice the average voter to at the very least research their favoured candidate or political stance. This growing trend of using social media as a political outlet amongst younger voters could help explain why polls on the 2016 election were so fantastically incorrect. As recent census data has shown, more and more homes are becoming “wireless only”, meaning that traditional polling over landlines overrepresented older generations. As a political revolution was kindling among the ranks of tireless memers, the establishment media was busy fixating itself on the data-driven political commentary provided by the usual establishment pundits and politicians. Needless to say, the younger voters didn’t exactly agree with older voters. Instead, younger voters identified themselves with people they felt provided a genuine solution to many of the world’s ills that will continue to plague their lives for decades to come. But rather than spending hours ruminating over the nuances of their personal positions, sharing a political meme is a much quicker and presentable form of spreading their thoughts and ideals.
Indeed, with memes, sharing your personal, oftentimes private opinions on all matters of political life can be as easy as uploading a picture of your dog. There’s a beauty to this simplicity. With a single picture and a few words, one can detail a level of political commentary rivalling that of any media outlet. Which brings me to the crux of this introductory post, I hope to share with you my experiences as a silent observer of various Facebook groups across the political spectrum. My intent is to demonstrate that the effective use of political memes can help propel the most unlikely underdogs into the executive spotlight.