Media Effects Research Lab - Research Archive

The role of Internet memes in creating a sense of belonging and community in an online setting

Student Researcher(s)

Maria Molina (Ph.D Candidate); Sara Erlichman (Ph.D Candidate)

Faculty Supervisor

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar

 This paper was based on a project as part of the "506 - Research Methods" course. 

INTRODUCTION
Social media has seen an increased use of Internet memes and almost every savvy Internet user has been in contact with a Internet meme or has shared one.Virtual communities are reliant upon member participation through publishing or posting content within the community in order to build sense of belonging and community. Relying on alternatives to face-to-face communication, members are creating content to express group identity and experiences. One alternative communicative method is through Internet memes. Internet memes are units of information – usually presented in the combined form of photo and text – that embeds cultural values and norms of said group. This study conducted an experiment to investigate the impact Internet memes have on one’s collective identity within online communities.

RESEARCH QUESTION / HYPOTHESES
H1. (a) Users exposed to meme content will perceive a higher sense of community and (b) will perceive a higher sense of belonging, compared to those exposed to non-meme content
H2. (a) The group with higher initial group identity (PSU community) will perceive higher sense of belonging and (b) higher sense of community than the group with less initial group identity (Communication majors community).
H3. Users exposed to meme content will have higher attitude toward the online community, compared to those exposed to non-meme content.
H4. Users exposed to memes content will find the content more humorous than those exposed to non-meme content.

METHOD
One hundred and eighty-six participants were randomly assigned to one of four orders of a 2 (Group: Communication majors community vs. PSU community) by 2 (Content: meme vs. non-meme) experiment. Four separate Facebook pages were created, each featuring articles pertaining to the group and images. For each Facebook page, six photos were posted, two groups used memes, and two groups had non-meme images. The dependent variables, sense of belonging and sense of community, were operationalized with established scales. Participants were asked to scroll through the assigned Facebook page, and were presented with a survey afterwards.

RESULTS
H1& H2: Partially Supported. Group acts as a moderator of the relationship between type of content and both, sense of community and sense of belonging. For the community with high initial identification with the group (PSU community), there is a lower sense of belonging and sense of community reported by participants in the community that viewed memes compared to the community that did not view memes. The opposite holds true for the community with low initial identification to the group (Communication majors community), where participants in the meme condition reported a higher sense of community and sense of belonging compared to those in the non-meme condition.
H3:  Partially Supported. Group acts as a moderator of the relationship between type of content and attitude toward the Facebook page. For the community with high initial identification with the group (PSU community), there is a lower attitude toward the page for participants in the community that viewed memes compared to the community that did not view memes. The opposite holds true for the community with low initial identification to the group (Communication majors community), where participants in the meme condition reported a higher attitude toward the page compared to those in the non-meme condition.
H4: Not supported. Users exposed to memes content did not find it more humorous than those exposed to non-meme content.

CONCLUSIONS/DISCUSSION
Internet memes can influence sense of belonging, sense of community, and attitude toward a community, however, contextual factors such as audience should be considered before assessing if the use of memes in fact will be successful. As our results indicate, the initial identification to the group is an important contributor to the different perceptions regarding Internet memes, and thus perceived sense of belonging, sense of community, and attitude toward the page.

For more details regarding the study contact

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar by e-mail at sss12@psu.edu or by telephone at (814) 865-2173

More Articles From: