FROM TOP-DOWN TO BOTTOM-UP: POLITICAL IMAGE MANAGEMENT AND THE PRESERVATION OF WHITE SUPREMACY THROUGH VISUALS AND MEMES ON SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS
Keywords:social media platforms, visuals, memes, digital political participation, white supremacy
AbstractSocial media platforms play an increasing role in politics, facilitating the circulation of populist texts disseminated by politicians, official campaign media, and user-generated content, all of which contribute to voters’ perceptions of politicians and political issues. The networks and affordances of social media platforms allow for the development of an individualized, affective connection with voters, which is a particularly important strategy for far-right politicians, who are often stigmatized. Furthermore, social media enables the circulation of user-generated materials in a form of digital political participation, allowing citizens to respond in real-time to political developments. While digital political participation ostensibly offers the potential for the expression of marginalized perspectives, digital texts predominantly emphasize and enforce existing hierarchies, particularly the supremacy of whiteness. This panel explores visuals and memes circulated on social media through the lenses of platform studies, whiteness studies, nostalgia, and Critical Discourse Analysis. By examining both “top-down” media disseminated by public figures and “bottom-up” user-generated content, this panel provides an in-depth understanding of the social media ecosystems that work to preserve and extend far-right values and white supremacy. Rachel Winter focuses on the influence of official campaign materials on user-generated content, as well as the impacts of both on candidate image management and the racial hierarchy of the United States. An analysis of representations of race in user-generated Rafael “Ted” Cruz and Robert “Beto” O’Rourke memes reveals an embedded valuation of whiteness and white supremacy to the detriment of other racial demographics. Political memes collected from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Reddit uphold the importance of the white racial identity of candidates and, in so doing, attempt to preserve White American identities from the perceived threat of multiculturalism embodied in racially diverse politicians and their constituents. Julia DeCook examines nostalgia and chronotopes in alt-right memes, contending that the emphasis on “tradition” over “progress” is an attempt to unify the alt-right and preserve white identity and supremacy from threats of globalization and feminism. The alt-right creates virtual nation-states that use consistent linguistic strategies to enable these groups to engage in a form of collective action. Examining white supremacist memes from Reddit and Instagram, Panelist 2 explores the ways that time, memory, and the abstract conception of “the past” are used in digital propaganda to appeal to younger voters and emphasize the myth that whiteness must be protected from the threat of multiculturalism.
How to Cite
Winter, R., & DeCook, J. (2021). FROM TOP-DOWN TO BOTTOM-UP: POLITICAL IMAGE MANAGEMENT AND THE PRESERVATION OF WHITE SUPREMACY THROUGH VISUALS AND MEMES ON SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS. AoIR Selected Papers of Internet Research, 2021. https://doi.org/10.5210/spir.v2021i0.12112