Making Politics Attractive: Satirical Memes and Attention to Political Information in the New Media Environment

Kirill Chmel, Nikita Savin, Michael X. Delli Carpini


The impact of humor on political attitudes and behaviors is receiving increased attention. We add to this literature by focusing on the increasingly common but understudied genre of satirical memes. Specifically, we ask whether the presence of memes encourages further consumption of political news; if this effect results from the satirical approach as opposed to the simple presence of visual images; and if such memes are selectively consumed by people who are already politically engaged or also by those who are less engaged. To answer these research questions, we conducted a placebo-controlled online experiment with convenience sampling of undergraduate students, based on a popular alternative news site’s posting of news stories accompanied by satirical memes. We found that on average, participants paid more attention to political news when it was accompanied by satirical memes than to news with no or non-satirical visuals. However, this effect was greater for those who were more interested in politics, suggesting that satirical memes may contribute to the knowledge gap between more and less politically aware and interested citizens.


political satire, memes, selective exposure, knowledge gap, digital media environment, experiment

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