The Police Benevolent Association Local 53 in Montclair, New Jersey, got in a little bit of trouble this week when an alleged “hacker” posted a pro-Donald Trump meme to the organization’s official Facebook page. According to North Jersey, an image of a police officer running and the text “Guys!! Trump won!! We get to be cops again!!!” appeared on the page earlier this week. While the content has since been taken down, the situation has highlighted the politicization of memes and how they can be divisive in nature.
As memes have gotten more popular over the past couple of years, they have largely been understood to be internet jokes. They’re often humorous, but many have subtext to them that make them connectable and shareable for people. Take, for example, all the Joe Biden memes that have taken the internet by storm. But the latest election has also proved that the online images can have salient effects on the networks they spread through. White nationalists co-opted Pepe the Frog, and turned him into a vehicle for their bigotry. The meme shared on the Montclair PBA Local 53 Facebook implied that before the Donald Trump presidency, cops weren’t able to do their jobs.
Visual memes grab attention easily, and get bumped up by Facebook’s algorithm. If it truly was a hacker that infiltrated the organization’s page, it was an intelligent move to promote their agenda through the use of a meme. And because of the outrage sparked by the image, they were able to lure people in, and provide a second update with a much more substantial text post. Maybe it was supposed to just be a “comical post,” and they didn’t realize the politicization embedded within it, but the idea was transmitted at the end of the day.
Montclair PBA Local 53 has since apologized for the hackers’ unauthorized activity.
When memes first began to cross into how people speak about internet and popular culture, it was hardly forecasted that they’d be such a successful way to spread information, whether it’s true or false. But as the divide between the online and the real world continues to wane, it’s vital to assess memes’ implications.