Democratic Participation through Crocheted Memes - School of Computing Seminar Series

Dr Ella Taylor-Smith will deliver a talk on Democratic Participation through Crocheted Memes

In a UK city, various crocheted protest banners have appeared, containing political statements concerning planned developments in their locations. Photos of these banners are shared across social media, raising awareness and potentially playing a role in local campaigns. This study explored peoples’ perceptions of these banners as photos within social media interactions, focusing on how associated emotions or values influenced their views of the campaigns. The aim was to increase understanding of the impact of images within social media, both on engagement with offline situations and on propensity to forward (e.g. retweet). People who had posted or shared pictures of the banners were interviewed. The study is framed by considering the banners—in both yarn format and digital photos—as memes. This situates the study within contemporary research into public participation online, especially the ways in which information, disinformation, and emotions travel across social media, and the influence of this on democracy. This article uses diverse definitions of memes to draw out insights from the interview data, about participants’ engagement with the banners and with the corresponding local issues, campaigns, and ultimately democracy. Interviewees were engaged by both the medium of the offline banners and the text embroidered onto them. In terms of the medium, the process of crochet was most important—indicating the time invested and encompassing memories. Interviewees were most engaged by those concerning places they passed every day, though they did not agree with all the banners’ messages.