A Standard for the Meme Election

Source: The Meme Election | TechCrunch

When I began my political activism as a College Republican in the early 1980s, one of the things decried among the small circle of thoughtful people in the group was the decline of political dialogue into a battle of bumper-stickers, and how that oversimplified politics. Despite our dire prognostications, political dialogue survived.

Today the social media meme has displaced the bumper sticker as the vector of oversimplified political positions and factual misrepresentation. I gave up on Facebook in no small part because of the way memes had overwhelmed intelligent political dialogue on that platform. Neither side is more guilty than the other: the entire political spectrum engages in electronic graphical demagoguery.

Ophir Tanz, CEO of Gumgum, notes in TechCrunch that memes will move millennials in this election, and he is probably right. But he takes the matter one step further: whatever the downsides of the reductio ad absurdum of this graphical glibness, memes hold a revealing mirror up to candidates and positions that candidates would be foolish to ignore.

Is this a good thing? Certainly, as long as:

  1. They motivate more people to go to the polls on election day and cast a ballot
  2. We see memes as replacements for bumper-stickers, and not as conduits for meaningful political dialogue;
  3. We check the facts before propagating a meme – the Pulitzer Prize-winning Politifact.com is a superb place to start;
  4. We do not knowingly propagate untruths, misrepresent facts, or engage in logical fallacies.

This is all probably too much to expect from many netizens of all political persuasions. But that does not mean that we should not demand it of those who engage in political speech. The nation is served by the free and open sharing of ideas, and it is undermined at every turn by those who would use those freedoms to spread untruths. It is no more forgivable to spread a meme you do not know is verifiable than it is for Donald Trump to insist (against all evidence to the contrary) that crowds of Muslims partied in New Jersey as the towers fell on 9/11.


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