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They are now a staple of facebook and other sites: The meme. It's a visual shorthand to communicate with Americans who lack either the time or the attention span to read anything of any substance. We tried a few at the truth-2-Power facebook page, and the results were a bit shocking.

A meme is 300% more likely to attract reads, shares, and likes than a news or op-ed article. Six times more likely to go viral. We tossed out this handful:


Within minutes we had dozens of shares, and good viral numbers. Traffic for the facebook page ticked up another 10% to nearly five times where it had been before our meme campaign.

This one drew in not only fans, but a huge response of "trolls," far Right people who patrol the progressive Internet and drop often poorly spelled slams of the content.


If we had posted that news article where we extracted the quote alone, it might have had a few hundred reads, and nearly no shares.  It will land a few thousand, with 23% of them from "viral" sharing of the meme. It has also driven up "likes" of our facebook page another 8-9% in the last day.

The combination of a salient quote and the image are something to which decades of advertising has conditioned us.


You might not think that a guru of the second century had much to say that was politically relevant to today, but put Wimpy Willard next to it and the brain does the rest.

We have had some fun with the meme, but they tend not to have the kind of lift that the more quote driven do. This one, of Arizona's Jan Brewer, did okay with people who already like what we have to say, but didn't score well virally:


Earlier in the year, we tried our hand at it during the primaries, but the other thing that we've discovered is that memes are to today's audience what op-ed pieces by the handful of newspapers used to put out at opinion pages. You have to have a steady stream of them to gain traction and momentum. People thought that this was funny, but it never did much to tell people that we offered more insight to progressive politics:

Why South Carolina, Why?

This piece, timed into the Paul Ryan announcement, shares a quote that we found Mitt Romney had made back in 2008 about President Obama. The dig certainly fits Paul Ryan to a T, begging the question which we ask:


That one is being seen by thousands of people daily, with 66% of the chatter about it being viral sharing.

Readership of our political blog also jumped another 7%, up nearly 20% from the start of the meme campaign. Why? Fewer people read the articles at length.  That's not to say that we have not had spikes. The Ryan meme above sent readership soaring on the day it was released, because the viral love spread into the articles near the meme on that day.

Our sound-bite culture is now going into the visual-bite as well.  What really bites, though, is that more and more Americans using the web are really only becoming superficially aware of what goes on around them.

We posted a few memes with links back to the stories where the quote came from. The link traffic to the full article is very low.  

Our experiments are anecdotal at best, but if what we see holds true for someone with the time to research, what it says is that our article about why negative political ads work is fundamentally true. The attacks on education, and the dumbing down of mass media are having a marked effect on America in a broad way that is also dragging down the political freedoms that we enjoy in an informed Democracy.

Memes are visual junk food. They are high gloss, empty intellectual-calorie sweets, info-gorging by a public that becomes mentally obese and obtuse as they skim along the surface of so much information on the saturated Internet.

Like everything else, we roll with what works. We would rather have 55,000 eyeballs with the hopes of getting 1000 more to read in-depth than 1,500 eyeballs and 500 loyal readers.

Still, democracy thrives with an informed electorate. Is this really informing anyone, or are we just tossing cupcakes into the crowd of fans?

My shiny two.

Brian Ross is the managing editor of and a featured blogger at The Huffington Post


Do you think political memes make it more likely for you to research something that you find more in-depth?

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| 16 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    88kathy, arealniceguy

    "There are two types of people in this world: Those who like delis, and those with whom you should not associate." - Damon Runyan

    by Brian Ross on Fri Aug 17, 2012 at 09:05:52 AM PDT

  •  AD (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Hey Ryan, where you goin' with that trans-vaginal probe in your hand

    by 88kathy on Fri Aug 17, 2012 at 09:08:41 AM PDT

    •  I'm going to sleep at the office tonight. There is (0+ / 0-)

      a real pretty cleaning girl and I plan to offer her a free exam. I heard she is on birth control and Rush Bimbo my hero said women on BC are all sluts. (Except for his wife.)

      And you thought Ryan was sleeping in the office to save meney.

      By the waY SOMETHING about his story about sleeping in his office does not ring true.

      Cleaning people clean offices at night. Even if they have instructions not to clean the office he is in they will be running a vac and making lots of noise in the outer office.

      Conservatives supported slavery, opposed women’s suffrage, supported Jim Crow, opposed the 40-hour work week, the abolishment of child labor, and supported McCarthyism. from 'It's The Conservatism, Stupid' by Paul Waldman July 12, 2006

      by arealniceguy on Fri Aug 17, 2012 at 02:41:18 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Someone posting a meme on FB I agree with (0+ / 0-)

    is like a mental handshake.  A meme I disagree with makes me crazy.

    Hey Ryan, where you goin' with that trans-vaginal probe in your hand

    by 88kathy on Fri Aug 17, 2012 at 09:09:44 AM PDT

  •  This is a Point a Small Minority Of Us Have Been (0+ / 0-)

    trying to make in our own ways over decades of watching the Republicans win with it.

    Slogans and images with emotional resonance are vastly more likely to gain mass distribution. The typical Democrat's communication of explanation and argumentation has barely got underway before the audience is gone.

    Those things are fine for the few percent who come to you for them. Otherwise keep it short, stick to the memes. We can be truthful about it; the facts back us up.

    The Obama ads this season have been pretty good at it actually.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Fri Aug 17, 2012 at 09:37:42 AM PDT

  •  Those aren't "memes" (0+ / 0-)

    A meme is just an idea, a chunk of information the same way a gene is a chunk of DNA.

    The things most people call memes are more correctly called image macros.

    What you posted aren't those, probably better termed infographics.

    Those who support banning cocaine are no better than those who support banning cheeseburgers

    by EthrDemon on Fri Aug 17, 2012 at 12:12:09 PM PDT

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