Posted April 17, 2018 06:20:16
Dank memes and quips about politics on social media aren't just there to be funny. New research suggests when people tell jokes about politics, they're usually advancing an agenda.
And what's more — there are subtle differences between the types of jokes people on the left and right of politics tell.
Thousands of "funny" tweets from the 2016 US election were analysed by researchers, who found that 70 per cent of the time jokes were pushing a political message.
Hillary Clinton supporters used political humour almost three times as much as Donald Trump supporters, Dr Jenny Davis from the Australian National University found.
"Though Clinton supporters were out in larger numbers in our data, when Trump supporters used humour, they almost always used it for serious political claims-making," she said.
Tweets in the study referenced a campaign clash where Mr Trump referred to Ms Clinton as a "nasty woman", and another where Ms Clinton said half of Mr Trump's supporters were a "basket of deplorables".
Dr Davis said both sides relished using humour to attack the candidate they opposed, but Clinton supporters were much more likely to use jokes to encourage people to rally, fundraise and vote.
"You had Clinton supporters getting out there and voting and raising money in the streets, at least as represented in our data, more than Trump supporters," she said.
"Overall they do approach it quite similarly, but you're going to find some nuanced ways where Republicans and Democrats diverge.
"That category, the progressive Democrat supporters were much more active, civically, in terms of voting and fundraising, and mobilising towards rallies, which is especially interesting because Trump won.
"Ultimately that didn't translate into election victory."
About 30 per cent of the "funny" tweets studied did not align to a clear political position.
The data was drawn from two infamous instances from the 2016 campaign, which researchers believed would be ripe for political joke-making.
The "Nasty Woman" and "Basket of Deplorables" claims also played into political attacks against the candidates: Mr Trump's alleged misogyny and Ms Clinton's alleged elitism.
"Political humorous content gets a disproportionate amount of attention on social media," Dr Davis said.
"What we were interested in was what people were doing with their humour? Were they just using politics to make funny comments, or were they using humour as a vehicle for serious political engagement?
"We sort of say 'politics has become a joke', but what we see is that joking, as it takes place online, is actually a really important and serious form of political engagement."
While the study focused on the US election, Dr Davis said the key result was applicable to Australian politics as well.
"Absolutely it's applicable in Australia," she said.
"I think sort of most immediately about the mockery around Turnbull and the Newspoll … around Barnaby Joyce there was quite a bit of meme-fication, mockery and jokes, but also those were tied to real serious political claims."
Topics: government-and-politics, research, science-and-technology, social-media, internet-culture, information-and-communication, australian-national-university-0200, canberra-2600, act, australia, united-states