Internet memes, more than traditional media, became a crucial political space for young voters on the leftby Ruby Lott-Lavigna / June 12, 2017 / Leave a comment
Did you spot it on last Thursday night’s election coverage? It was the moment that Andrew Marr mentioned this funny little thing that had helped the Labour party gain a surge in constituencies with young voters. Right there, in between the talk of swing votes and marginal seats, was the millennial buzzword: “memes.”
Yes, you heard correctly. A political commentator on the BBC referenced memes as a genuine contributor to Labour gains and, in particular, the young vote. Although the exact numbers are still under dispute, there is clear evidence that higher turnout in areas with a larger proportion of young voters contributed to Labour’s (far) better than expected result.
With the 18-25 turnout in the last General Election at only 43 per cent, it is apparent that something about this general election, in particular, was able to mobilise thousands of reluctant voters, particularly in Labour marginals, and re-established politics as something that the previously disenfranchised can have a say in.
How did it happen? God bless the mighty internet.
Online campaigning’s efficacy has often come into question, especially when it comes to the Left and its “echo chamber” (insert scoffing noise). The idea of a Facebook post having any real influence seemed preposterous. Swing voters wouldn’t have seen it—and if they did, what good would a trite status update and an emoji do?
Despite this skepticism, the memers gonna meme. These viral images and inside jokes travelled around the internet faster than any official sponsored post, and also cost nothing (compared to the £1 million war chest that the Tories amassed for social media, including huge numbers of Facebook ads attacking Corbyn). This was the election where a new brand of campaigning emerged, one that centred around a shareable, authentic identity that you could relate to. Bitesize chunks of politics that you could consume on your lunch break, that spoke to you more than a leaflet through your door. It might seem stupid to talk about authenticity when it comes down what is essentially a joke, but at the core of these memes is a genuinely liking for Corbyn and Labour’s policies—as well as a feeling of being part of something, even if it’s just a joke.