Political Memes and Fake News Discourses on Instagram

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2439

Article | Open Access

Political Memes and Fake News Discourses on Instagram


  • Ahmed Al-Rawi School of Communication, Simon Fraser University, Canada


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Abstract:  Political memes have been previously studied in different contexts, but this study fills a gap in literature by employing a mixed method to provide insight into the discourses of fake news on Instagram. The author collected more than 550,000 Instagram posts sent by over 198,000 unique users from 24 February 2012 to 21 December 2018, using the hashtag #fakenews as a search term. The study uses topic modelling to identify the most recurrent topics that are dominant on the platform, while the most active users are identified to understand the nature of the online communities that discuss fake news. In addition, the study offers an analysis of visual metadata that accompanies Instagram images. The findings indicate that Instagram has become a weaponized toxic platform, and the largest community of active users are supporters of the US President Donald Trump and the Republican Party, mostly trolling liberal mainstream media especially CNN, while often aligning themselves with the far-right. On the other hand, a much smaller online community attempts to troll Trump and the Republicans. Theoretically, the study relies on political memes literature and argues that Instagram has become weaponized through an ongoing ‘Meme War,’ for many members in the two main online communities troll and attack each other to exert power on the platform.

Keywords:  fake news; Instagram; polarization; political memes; social media

Published:   3 March 2021


DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/mac.v9i1.3533


© Ahmed Al-Rawi. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.