I've noticed whenever some government or huge company makes a drastic harm to the environment (or generates the false impression of doing so) this specific kind of meme emerges...
Memes that contrast the huge impact big players have against the insignificant impact regular people have:
This got me thinking. What is the effect this kind of meme has on various types of people? I made a quick analysis of around 130 replies of this particular meme on Twitter, and found the following:
- A - 1.5% believe the fact in the meme but they claim they will maintain their environmentalist efforts nevertheless.
- B - 2.3% defend the aerospace industry. (?)
- C - 10.7% refute the incorrect fact quoted in the meme.
- D - 26.7% believe the quoted fact is true and react with either: neutrality, sadness, or laughter. (Not-angry reaction)
- E - 8.4% feel their environmentalist efforts have been pointless.
- F - 3.8% claim they've abandoned environmentalist efforts for exactly things like these.
- G - 12.2% believe the quoted fact is true and react with either: frustration, anger, indignation, frustration, hopelessness or resignation. (Angry reaction)
- H - 13% focus on criticizing billionaires.
- I - 14.5% criticize environmentalist activism, mock it, point out it's foolish, etc.
- J - 6.9% criticize progressive ideas in general, many attack veganism specifically.
Granted, these categorizations are somewhat subjective, I've made them dynamically as I went through the replies trying to group them in relevant ways. This may not be the perfect way of organizing replies. It's just one attempt.
An important clarification: Of course memes don't magically change people's ideas and motivations. e.g.:
- Very likely replies of type I and J come from conservatives, and the meme didn't really cause much more than a few laughs.
- Very likely replies of type H come from progressives who specifically "hated the rich" even before seeing this meme.
- Very likely replies of type E, F and G come from activists who already felt some form of powerlessness, hopelessness or resignation even before seeing this meme.
In other words, I don't think this specific meme can move you from group E to group A, or vice versa.
However, I wonder if the meme could nudge you in some direction.
Maybe it may nudge some E people towards the direction of group A, that is: into action, into motivation to be the change they want to see in the world, what Susan Sontag would call a witnessing moment. Being touched so profoundly by the media in question that you experience a permanent change in your being, your perception of the world, and your motivations. Arguably, this is desirable for environmentalism activists.
Or... maybe the opposite is the case. Maybe an A person may be nudged towards group E. They may not fully transition groups, but they may grow just a little bit more hopeless. A little bit more powerless. She may still belong to A, she may still acknowledge the limited impact of her individual actions and still decide to maintain such actions... but perhaps with a little less conviction than before.
In summary, a single meme won't radically change your position overnight (neither positively —towards action and empowerment, nor negatively —towards hopelessness and resignation). But I wonder if it may push various people into various directions.
Can we predict this?
Can we study the net effect a meme has had, or would have on certain population?
Has something like this been done before?
Personally, I believe these memes have a negative effect of fostering hopelessness that outweighs the positive effect of raising awareness of unjust, powerful actors doing disproportionate harm. But my belief is not the central point I want to make, but rather, posing the question: How can I build a more accurate belief about this topic? How can I find if my current belief ("net-negative effect") is right or wrong?