Stewart Sowman-Lund talks to the anonymous, ideologically opposed creators of two Facebook meme pages about the role the Gen Z mainstay plays in our political landscape.
In total, almost 70,000 people “like” the two biggest New Zealand political meme pages on Facebook. Out of the entire “team of five million”, that’s not a lot.
However, their reach is likely to be far greater – with shares, comments and likes spiralling into the hundreds.
So, as we head into election campaign 2.0, it begs the question: could the politically vocal but often election-day-absent youth be swayed… by memes?
Can you tell me how you started your meme page?
National Party’s Meme Working Group: We’re a group of high school friends who started the page all the way back in March 2017 before that year’s general election. Our main goal was, and still is, to provide young Kiwis with reasons why National is best placed to govern New Zealand.
Backing the Kiwi Meme: https://www.wikihow.com/Create-a-Facebook-Fan-Page
Do you seriously have no affiliation to the party you represent?
NPMWG: No one in the team are members of any political party or employed by National.
BTKM: We’re obviously Labour supporters but the page is not endorsed by, affiliated with or approved of by Labour. Our page has other interests too, like stanning Dr Ashley Bloomfield, and we’re fond of cheese bloody rolls.
Do you agree with all the memes you publish, or are some of them just for the joke?
NPMWG: For the most part, yes. We would be lying if we didn’t say we sometimes like to provoke lefties with our content, but on the whole, we stand by everything we publish. We’re only human and have sometimes made mistakes. Whenever this occurs, we’ve never been afraid to remove the post, apologise and correct our error.
BTKM: We think Jacinda’s the best PM ever. Five stars. Would recommend.
We’re going into an election campaign – how much influence do you think your Facebook page can wield?
NPMWG: Not a lot. In the 2017 general election nearly 2.7 million New Zealanders voted, our page (as of 14/08/2020) has just shy of 21,000 likes. You can do the math. Social media, for the most part, is one giant echo chamber. Any undecided voters should stay off Facebook and Twitter and instead read the policy platforms of all parties to make a better and more informed decision.*
BTKM: We personally believe the election should be decided by a Backing the Kiwi Meme Official Poll. All other polls are crooked – ask Winston.
*Editor’s note: Check out Policy here
Have you ever been given information from your party to push via a Facebook post?
NPMWG: Never. We usually just meme what we see in the news.
BTKM: This page isn’t endorsed by, affiliated with or approved of by the party. They don’t tell us what to say and if they did, we’d probably do the opposite. Memes can’t be tamed.
Have you ever had any contact from your party questioning or praising the content on your page?
NPMWG: Surprisingly, we’ve had a few National MPs message us with some meme ideas – not from the MPs you would expect, either! However, we aren’t happy whenever MPs steal our content without credit. We will spare them the embarrassment of naming and shaming them for this article. We get a lot of messages of support from National supporters and many angry messages from Labour supporters – this makes us think we are doing our job correctly.
Youth engagement in politics is quite low. Do you think memes help or hinder engagement?
NPMWG: Youth voter turnout is a big concern for us this election. We believe that memes go a long way in helping young Kiwis understand the problems we face and how different political parties are responding to the challenges New Zealand is facing.
However, social media and memes will only ever go so far, and as stated previously, we think that Facebook and Twitter are just two giant echo chambers. The responsibility of engaging with New Zealand’s youth rests with political parties, MPs and candidates to actively create policy and campaign in a manner that engages youth.
BTKM: Everyone should remember that at the end of the day, meme pages like BKM are just for some lols at New Zealand’s little political goings-on. While we aspire to have the cred of influential pages like Shit Towns of New Zealand or Vicdeals, we do not.
Mostly our followers already love Jacinda and Labour (and sometimes the Greens). But if we get someone new interested in politics, or wanting to vote (ideally for Labour), then we’ll be happy. Sometimes politics is hard to understand, so it’s nice to put out news in a way that some young people want to receive it, so it can be accessible.
This page isn’t a fancy operation. We’ve self-taught graphic design (although tbh it’s mostly screenshots of tweets these days). We rely a lot on fan submissions to keep the memes flowing. You know, the meme economy (in terms of new popping formats) is actually drying up, maybe because of the grim situation in most parts of the world isn’t particularly good content for memes. It means today that the meme scene in 2020 is a dog-eat-dog world. Our lovingly crafted memes get stolen, and we poach them back.
We’re finding it hard to keep producing enough content that successfully caters to a growing audience. People like different memes. They like different messages. Moderating comments has become like a full-time job – that’s new. As the election draws closer, some of the nastier type of comments have surfaced. People are coming on to our page and commenting targeting women in politics, or outright accusing MPs and their families of crazy stuff.
It’s hard to balance the reality that we just set up this stupid meme page for fun with the responsibility of preventing this kind of platform from being used for rumours or slander.
We all have lives, partners, jobs. Sometimes it’s hard to justify the time it takes to keep this going and our fans happy. We delete shit content all the time. Or a fan messages us and tells us that a meme format is problematic or just lame for whatever reason – we listen to them. We want to do good memes that make people laugh. Judging what’s funny for other people can be hard. Maybe the era of the Kiwi meme is over?
Who’s going to be our next prime minister?!
BTKM: We reject the premise of your question. The prime minister won’t change. Ever.
Interested in political meme content? Check out Madeleine Chapman’s Memebers of Parliament every Tuesday morning until the election.