Meme 2020, the collective of social media influencers and content creators that posted sponsored content in support of Michael Bloomberg’s Democratic presidential primary run, is back with a new campaign aimed at preventing the re-election of President Donald Trump.
For the campaign, the group, which released its first round of election memes in February, has partnered with the Lincoln Project, a political action committee formed by Republicans who oppose Mr. Trump, and Rhyme Combinator, a viral media company that promotes artistic and progressive causes. The tech entrepreneur Reid Hoffman is sponsoring Meme 2020’s efforts.
This new meme campaign is primarily focused on vote-by-mail registration, which Mr. Trump has repeatedly falsely stated would lead to a “rigged” election. This week, it has begun rolling out across dozens of popular Instagram meme pages.
One of the memes, which is aimed at registering voters in Florida, a swing state, shows a mail-in ballot application for the state on a phone screen. At the top of the screen, an incoming text from a contact named “F.B.I. Agent” reads: “You know Joe Exotic isn’t on the ballot, right?”
Another features an application for a New York State mail-in ballot and another incoming text from a supposed F.B.I. agent. “This is the most productive you’ve been in four months. Keep it up,” the text reads.
Mick Purzycki, the founder and C.E.O. of Meme 2020, said that the group and its partners employed data scientists and statisticians to conduct months of testing on hundreds of meme formats.
“We found that memes that were intended to be explicitly anti-Trump weren’t as persuasive as those that weren’t so explicit,” Mr. Purzycki said. “People have become so good at identifying when the voice of the meme feels like it’s coming from the left, and it forces the right to entrench. Memes that are cloaked in a way to slightly make fun of the left first, then lean into a hard critique of Trump, end up moving both moderates and Republicans in the intended direction.”
The group will be introducing more memes this summer and through the fall. It has also taken steps to register an official political action committee, MemeAmerica, for raising money to support candidates who “understand the unique challenges facing millennials and Gen Z,” said Ryan Patrick Kelley, the chief of staff for Meme 2020.
In recent years, memes have been deployed to influence election results, most notably in 2016, when Russia’s Internet Research Agency used them to spread propaganda and misinformation about Mr. Trump and Hillary Clinton. Mr. Trump and other candidates have used memes to influence public opinion. And pro-Trump meme pages that propagate conspiracy theories and misinformation have spread on social media.
Bernie Sanders’s supporters produced a steady stream of memes to elevate his campaign’s message. It is unusual, though, to see such methods employed in support of the Democratic establishment.
“Too many political campaigns are scared to do something as different as Meme 2020,” said Sarah Lenti, the executive director of the Lincoln Project. “But in order to be heard over the loudest president in the history of our country, you can’t be afraid to be creative and must be willing to meet voters where they are.”
Beau Lewis, the founder of Rhyme Combinator, is producing animated rap battles that engage with political issues, which will be posted on YouTube. Mr. Lewis said that he hopes “this unlikely content that finds its power in humor and lowering people’s guard to accept information can be a counter to the TV attack ads that divide people.”
For memes to persuade, however, they must be seen as authentic. After Meme 2020’s initial Bloomberg campaign, several memers who took part faced public criticism. Josh Ostrovsky, a memer known online as the Fat Jew, said he was asked to participate in the Bloomberg campaign in February but declined, citing the programs and policies Mr. Bloomberg supported as the mayor of New York City, including “the subjugation of minorities through stop and frisk” and “his hardline anti-marijuana stance.”
Mr. Purzycki said the group is keeping the first round of memes broad partly to gauge influencers’ “willingness to participate in any type of political campaign.” Tank Sinatra, a memer with more than 2.6 million followers on Instagram, said: “The biggest thing I learned from the Bloomberg campaign is people stay mad for a very short amount of time. If people get upset about it I’m not that worried because I know how quickly they move on to something else.”
Some Meme 2020 content, however, attacks Mr. Trump directly. One meme that is running as a paid Instagram video advertisement features a tweet from Mr. Trump in which he refers to supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement as “THUGS.” The tweet is juxtaposed above a video of an older Black woman with a walker peacefully marching, which Meme 2020 sourced.
“This frequent inaccurate and divisive rhetoric is exactly what compelled us to get involved in this election,” said Mr. Purzycki.
Adam the Creator, another memer, said that his goal was to “awaken people without villainizing anyone.”
“I don’t consider Trump the worst person in the world, I’m not a hater,” he said. “The sides shouldn’t be defined as the left and right. They should be defined as what’s right and wrong, what’s better for the people and what’s harmful. It seems like it’s shaking out that Trump is more harmful, and we want this era to end.”
Mr. Purzycki said that while the internet tends to reward divisive ideas, Meme 2020’s content is more moderate. “If you are being persuaded by a political ad, you’re generally thinking, ‘Wow I might be wrong about this, I should think more about this,’” he said, “and that is not a feeling that generally makes people hit the Like or Share button as much as something that reinforces a belief that one holds.”
To be effective, Meme 2020’s content will have to amuse and persuade people. A meme that does both, Mr. Purzycki said, is “the holy grail.”
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