The Internet and social media have exacerbated the effects of partisan polarization through fake news reports and memes. Polarization is defined as the growing gap between liberals and conservatives but also increased ideological consistency within both sides of the political spectrum. Fake news and memes on social media are both used in inflammatory ways that incite anger and even violence. Memes are particularly good for causing these reactions because they are easy to understand and circulate. I provide examples of these instances by showcasing memes created by liberal and conservative pages on Facebook and Instagram. These social media platforms also make for effective echo chambers where people are only exposed to viewpoints that they agree with through selection bias. Individuals seek out information that they agree with and this only hardens their attitudes, contributing to more partisan polarization. Bot accounts also contribute to these problems by catering to highly partisan, polarized individuals. Posts from bots are becoming harder to detect as their content is becoming more sophisticated. However, memes are not always inflammatory or polarizing. Governor Beshear’s daily press conferences have been met with an overwhelming response of “wholesome” memes that both liberals and conservative individuals enjoy.
Semester/Year of Award
Dr. Anne Cizmar
Mentor Professional Affiliation
Department of Government
Restricted Access Thesis
Government and Economics
King, Sarah, "Explaining the Role of Social Media in Political Polarization" (2020). Honors Theses. 747.
This image is a screenshot of a fake news article created by the Conservative Tribune.
BreitbartFakeNewsHeadline.jpg (93 kB)
This image is a screenshot of a fake news article by Breitbart that received a poor Politifact rating.
BloombergTrumpMemeJPG.jpg (94 kB)
This image is a meme that has been used to argue that liberals are not as good as conservatives at making memes.
TrumpRepublican.JPG (64 kB)
This image is a meme that has a fake quote from President Trump regarding why he chose to run as a Republican.
BidenKKK.jpg (76 kB)
This image is of Vice President Biden and Senator Byrd with a misleading caption.
BernieTaxPlan.JPG (205 kB)
This image is a meme of false claims regarding Senator Sanders' tax plan.
ObamaMedalOfHonor.jpg (42 kB)
This image is a meme showing President Obama awarding the Medal of Freedom to photoshopped individuals.
COVID-19ApocalypseMeme.jpg (78 kB)
This image is a meme depicting an apocalyptic result of COVID-19.
PelosiDisgraceMeme.jpg (182 kB)
This image is a meme created by a conservative Facebook page and refers to Speaker Pelosi as a disgrace.
GodPelosi.jpg (63 kB)
This image is a meme created by Occupy Democrats and portrays Speaker Pelosi in a more positive light.
VenezuelaHulkMeme.JPG (67 kB)
This image compares Senator Sanders' socialist approach to Venezuela.
AnakinMeme.JPG (88 kB)
This image suggests that the government's response to COVID-19 is more than that.
COVIDMeetingMeme.jpg (86 kB)
This image, like the Anakin meme before it, suggests that the government is doing something sinister with its approach to COVID-19.
TheCrowderMeme.JPG (321 kB)
This meme shows conservative social media personality Stephen Crowder with a controversial photoshopped sign.
BernieToiletPaper.JPG (92 kB)
This meme shows a man purchasing a large amount of toilet paper not for COVID-19, but for a possible Sanders presidency.
TrumpVenn.jpg (308 kB)
This meme compares President Trump to Presidents Nixon, Reagan, and Bush in a negative manner.
TrumpKnowLittle.jpg (73 kB)
This meme suggestions that President Trump does not know very much.
GOPShredder.jpg (279 kB)
This meme suggests that the Republican Party does not respect the Constitution.
StandingRock.jpg (62 kB)
This image shows a fake news headline about Standing Rock.
FakeProfileEx.jpg (217 kB)
This image shows a fake profile created by the IRA.
IRAJesusMeme.jpg (117 kB)
This meme was created by a Russian organization and asks social media users to prove their belief in Jesus.
IRAVeteransVSRefugees.jpg (131 kB)
This meme suggests that refugees get priority over veterans.
TrumpOrBiden.jpg (31 kB)
This meme asks social media users to choose between President Trump or Vice President Biden.
IRABetterDeadThanRed.jpg (77 kB)
This meme demonstrates that the Russian Glavset makes liberal memes as well.
IRAVeteranFlag.jpg (164 kB)
This meme created by the Russian Glavset plays on decades-old feelings toward the flag.
BaconMeme.jpg (66 kB)
This meme created by the Glavset plays on anti-Muslim attitudes in the United States.
ConfederateFlagMeme.jpg (233 kB)
This meme created by the Glavset suggests that social media users should "stay redneck."
IRAInclusiveFeminism.jpg (50 kB)
This meme created by the Glavset also demonstrates their ability to make memes for a liberal audience.
IRAConservativeFeminism.jpg (140 kB)
This meme by the Glavset provides a conservative counter to their liberal feminist meme.
IRABidenTrolling.jpg (175 kB)
This meme created by the Glavset and used by Liberty Memes shows an example of trolling on the Internet.
LibertyMemesPolice.jpg (120 kB)
This meme posted in the Liberty Memes Community Group shows their distaste for police officers and their ability to encourage trolling.
LMCGSpongebob.JPG (140 kB)
This meme posted in the Liberty Memes Facebook page calls both President Trump and Vice President Biden unstable.
BeshearBingo.JPG (125 kB)
This meme makes light of Governor Beshear's request for a bingo parlor in Pike County to close.
BeshearKnight.JPG (111 kB)
This meme portrays Governor Beshear as a knight protecting Kentuckians from COVID-19.
BeshearIconicDuo.JPG (72 kB)
This meme calls Governor Beshear and his sign language translator as an iconic duo.