Horizon CDT Research Highlights

Research Highlights

Understanding (Political) Internet Memes and their effects on social media users

  Giovanni Schiazza (2020 cohort)

This research aims at understanding what effects internet memes have on social media users, with a focus on how people learn information from internet memes and how this impacts how people understand digital politics and related concepts. This will be done by analysing internet memes in general and then focusing on the effects that political internet memes have on users. Political internet memes are simply memes that have a political message or are political in nature. This focus on political internet memes is important as it has been suggested in the literature that this specific type of meme has effects on online political discourse and digital politics. Thus, the proposed PhD will:

  1. significantly contribute to the emerging literature on memes;
  2. construct tools for and apply novel methods to the analysis of memes;
  3. offer insights on online political discourse, information and opinion spread;
  4. contribute to the literature in digital politics, digital communication, psychology, and computer science.

The proposed methodology and planned activities work in an iterative manner: the insights gained from each of the stages will shape and inform the next stage’s design and hypotheses.

In order to address the research questions, this PhD will need to first address a critical problem in internet memes research: the systematicity in the study of memes. The research starts by collecting memes with web scraping techniques on multiple social media. The created dataset will allow us to test a categorisation previously created (based on media format types), perform a semi-automated content analysis on the dataset and conduct a social network analysis so as to understand the social media ecology/structure of memes.

Having analysed the meme dataset, we will then proceed into using experimental and quasi-experimental designs to assess what effects PIMs and IMs have on users in terms of political knowledge, opinion formation and change, attitudes, information-seeking intentions, political cynicism and emotional states. Subsequently, we will craft a simulation of a social media feed and analyse user behaviour in response to the feed both on the simulation device and with the use of eye-tracking technology.