What It Is
Memes (text and images) that express shared humanity with others.
Civic Signal Being Amplified
When To Use It
If you are conducting a third party campaign to reduce intergroup animosity or, perhaps, a platform that wants to reduce intergroup hostility.
What Is Its Intended Impact
Partisans, or possibly members of other groups in conflict, will view counter-partisans in a more positive and humane light, thus feeling better able to develop relationships with those whom they disagree with.
Evidence That It Works
Evidence That It Works
Masullo (2022) conducted a survey experiment in which subjects were presented with a simulation of a fully interactive social media feed and randomly assigned to see either a set of posts that included memes with messages of shared humanity, among other memes, or a set of posts not including humanity memes.
The memes were created based on the theoretical work of psychologist Kristin Neff and colleagues. Masullo found that subjects who saw the humanity memes were 5.7 percentage points more likely to say that counter partisans had positive attributes such as being "sympathetic" or "warm", but they were not likewise less likely to attribute negative qualities to them, such as "brain-washed" or "selfish".
While this study suggests that the use of humanity memes may improve partisans' views of each other, it has several limitations which keep us from giving it more than a "tentative" badge. Like all survey experiments, we cannot know if its effects would be seen in a real world setting (i.e. if users were to see these memes while on a real social media platform). As importantly, the researchers only saw effects on one outcome (increase in positive attitudes) but not the perhaps more critical outcome (decrease in negative attitudes). We suspect one reason they failed to see a decrease in negative attitudes is because those attitudes were more politically charged (e.g. "misinformed", "brainwashed").
Lastly, while the researchers presented the effect of seeing all eight memes they produced, a future replication - which we hope there will be - might be designed to see if any effects are driven by any particular meme.
Why It Matters
While there isn't consensus on whether and in which ways social media leads to greater polarization, online interventions present an opportunity to mitigate partisan animosity and toxic inter-group behavior online. By cuing users to think of their shared humanity with others, they may be more likely to think of and treat others with more humanity, in spite of deeply held disagreements.
This study shows the potential impact of memes that are posted by other users, which suggests this intervention is best suited for third parties running social media campaigns to influence user behavior. Whether or not this intervention can be successfully adapted and adopted by platforms was debated by the library team: some see promise in platforms signaling norms while others expect there could be a backfiring effect among users resistant to "platform nannies." Finally, we do not have evidence that humanity memes are effective for both right and left of center users.
Bridging Political Divides with Facebook Memes
Is this intervention missing something?
You can help us! Click here to contribute a citation, example, or correction.