If you like politics, hate politics, enjoy memes, or just enjoy watching people slowly descend into madness online (let’s be honest- who doesn’t?), then you’ve probably seen Clive Palmer’s meltdown on Facebook. Calling it a meltdown might not be accurate, because that implies it happened suddenly. The truth is, for months now, Clive Palmer has been overtly trying to barter memes for electoral votes over his Facebook page (verified to be his, by the way) in stark contrast to literally every other Australian politician.
One of the most prolific creations of the internet are memes. The child of trending news and innocuous humour, they’re often images overlaid with text to create an inside joke. But for a second, imagine that you’re unfamiliar with them. Continue this leap of imagination by pretending you were an old, right wing billionaire politician. Then imagine you found a way to have a massive, politically uneducated audience willingly view your Facebook page. Now stop being Clive Palmer for a moment to finish reading this. Afterwards, you can pretend to be Clive as long as you want, I won’t preach. Clive Palmer, or someone with a ridiculous amount of Mr. Palmer’s trust, is using memes as a way to interact with this younger audience the same way a company might try to promote brand recognition.
What place do innocuous internet jokes have in what should arguably be a no-nonsense career? If you said none, you were wrong. The Trump presidential campaign proved one thing (among several more, unflattering things about the new President himself), it doesn’t matter what you say, but how you say it. Flip flopping between what should be set in stone political ideas, blatant smear campaigns, and 3 AM Twitter rants were all successful tactics of the new President of the United States. Let that sink in for a moment.
The 2016 Presidential race was the apex of meme influence. With a host of unfavourable candidates, dissenting and alienated groups used memes as a way to express dissatisfaction with their options for the next President of the United States. Never before had what amounted to low effort internet humour been able to have such a broad impact on voters minds, which really says a lot about who these politicians are trying to influence. It might seem like a stretch to say that they managed to have an influence on electing arguably the most powerful position in the world, but when publications like Brown Political Review, The New Yorker, or The Guardian are reporting on memes destroying democracy, then it might become an issue.
In an era where likeability is often the deciding factor in elections, political memes hold a lot of sway over the conscious and subconscious ways people think about candidates. Memes, from the Greek for “that which is imitated”, are able to be replicated and shared online in instants. There is no accountability, and they don’t need to be verified in order to become popular. These factors make politically charged accusations able to become widespread in a matter of minutes, and before any legitimate information can reach an invested audience, first impressions have been made, and the damage has been done.
The place that memes have in Australian politics is a dangerous one. Political memes have the ability to shape an audiences view of parliament members with little to no evidence, under the pretence of being humour. While often they are innocent jokes, they are usually there to discredit or damage someone’s reputation. This is absolutely the case for Clive Palmer, with Bill Shorten being the butt of most of his jokes. They’re funny, they get likes and shares, but when election time comes around, I just hope people exercise a little bit of critical thinking before voting for the most absent member of parliament in 2014.