An intervention mockup with a meme showing two people in a reciprocal "ying-yang" icon.

Shared Humanity Memes

Reducing intergroup animosity

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What It Is

Memes (text and images) that express shared humanity with others

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, humane light and, thus, feel better able to develop relationships with those they disagree with.

Evidence That It Works

Evidence That It Works

Masulla (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 in the study were created by undergrads, using guidance from the psychologist Kristin Neff and colleagues. Masulla found that subjects who saw the humanity memes were 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, such as "brain-washed" or "selfish", to counter-partisans.

While this study suggests 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 important, 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 eighth memes they produced, a future replication - which we hope there will be - might be designed to see if any effects are driven by a 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.

Special Considerations

This study shows the potential impact of memes that are posted by other users, which suggests this intervention is best suited for 3rd parties running social media campaigns to influence user behavior. Whether or not this intervention could be successfully adapted and adopted by platforms was debated by our 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.


This intervention entry currently lacks photographic evidence (screencaps, &c.)


Bridging Political Divides with Facebook Memes

Gina M. Masullo
April 15, 2022

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