The International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) has accepted my submission about Internet memes and public opinion for presentation at the annual conference in Montreal in July 2015.
Internet memes are a popular phenomenon in present-day Internet communication. Internet memes are images, short video clips (or animated images in the .gif format), often containing catch phrases and additional captions. They are spread via email, web sites, blogs, discussion forums, and social media. If a meme ‘goes viral’, it reaches a large number of people in a short time. Recipients of memes sometimes alter the content or use the meme in new contexts, thereby contributing to the publicity of the underlying idea.
My presentation focuses on the societal function of memes as a form of public opinion expression. Internet memes often refer to popular culture, computer games or jokes. However, there is a considerable number of memes addressing societal conflicts (such as feminism, racism, religious extremism, or the anti-vaccine movement) or general issues of social relevance (such as the role of science for humankind). Other memes directly address issues of a political nature, such as the wars in the Middle East and the Ukraine, terrorist attacks, and political debates in the U.S. and other countries. Moreover, there is a large area of memes indirectly addressing issues of public importance such as international understanding, or human mating rituals.
This paper presents a review of typical memes related to public opinion. Examples for the analyzed memes in this category include a meme making fun of IS terrorists, one on gender-neutral restrooms and one demanding free condoms for everyone in order to prevent diseases. Potential effects on internet users’ perception of the climate of opinion as well as the role of memes for the concept of a worldwide public opinion are addressed.