There was a time when the New Year dawned the phone would ring and beep incessantly. It still does, but not at the same rate it did, say five years back, unless it’s loaded with social media apps.
The once ubiquitous SMS has been replaced by Whatsapp, Facebook and other web based messaging systems. We still get our electronic New Year greetings – the New Year would not be the same without them, but they come in different formats.
Among the greetings no doubt was one of the most versatile creations to express anything from adoration to disgust – the meme.
The last two and half months of 2018 showed that despite all the political tragedy, Sri Lankans still had a sense of humour. The meme became one of the best ways to express that.
- Research has shown that in November last year, video content on Facebook by pages allied with the UNP rose almost 90%
- The subtlest of political statements was said in the most comical of ways. But the effect was astounding. The meme was where the slapstick merges seamlessly with political punditry
- During the crisis no other political party gained on social media engagement than the UNP
The memes and user-generated video were two of the main-stays on social media during those 51 days when the country was trying to figure out who exactly was the prime minister.
Research has shown that in November last year, video content on Facebook by pages allied with the UNP rose almost 90%. As many others have also expressed, the scale of content and engagement was partly fuelled by the selective censorship adapted by many of the legacy electronic media.
Apart from content uploaded by its MPs and other supporters, the UNP also set up a web-based news channel and also put out content put together by its own media units. One such was on the series of calls MP Range Bandara received from S. B. Dissanayake. A single video on one of the calls had been viewed close to a half million times and shared 11,000 times on Facebook. That is massive traction.
During the crisis no other political party gained on social media engagement than the UNP. Whether those gains are organic or orchestrated is yet not clear. As is whether the party can maintain the momentum into the New Year and then into the inevitable elections. More so keeping in mind that its opponents have been far more organized, planned and cohesive in the use of web-based platforms for some time now.
If the videos were straight forward, the memes were the commentary, daring and insightful than many of the editorial pontifications.
Some of the memes obviously were creations of users who were openly politically partisan or extremist, but 100’s came from those who have no such affiliations.
The subtlest of political statements was said in the most comical of ways. But the effect was astounding. The meme was where the slapstick merges seamlessly with political punditry.
Like the one on the closure of the SLFP headquarters while the President was away on holiday or the one of ITN switching sides from Mahinda Rajapaksa to Ranil Wickremesinghe, without missing a beat.
Usually the meme sphere is full of those making fun of everything from celebrities to nextdoor neighbours. It so easily mixes the visual with the sentiments and has become one of the chosen forms of expression for the millennials.
Looking at 39 Sri Lankan meme Facebook pages, they together produced 2,600 memes between October 27 and December17. This by no means is not all of what was produced. The biggest growth was noticed during mid-November when the political chicanery was at its worst.
The meme was where many Sri Lankans found their own disgust with the politicians and the system reflected authentically. It found resonance in the bus and in the living room, sometimes even in the bathroom.
The author is the Asia-Pacific Coordinator for the DART Centre for Journalism and Trauma, a project of the Columbia Journalism School
Twitter - @amanthap