Popular UKC meme pages have too much power in influencing KU elections

Tarini Tiwari 1 March 2021

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of InQuire Media

Image courtesy of Rory Bathgate

One of the first news stories I covered after joining InQuire was the 2020 Kent Union presidential election. I love politics — I think the democratic process is exciting, it puts the fate of a nation, state or even a university campus in the hands of the people. I was so thrilled to be involved in the elections; all the debates and manifestos were calling my name. I soon found my idealist views of democracy to be torn apart before my very eyes as the university’s meme pages took control of the election.

It’s no secret that Josh Frost, Kent Union President for the academic year 2020-21, won thanks to the influence of meme pages on UKC students. Proud admin of @ukckentbinz, Frost had been admitted to the elusive inner circle of meme page administrators. The endorsements rolled in from @imjustukc and @templeman.memes (we’ll get to him) among others, and Frost found his work had been done for him. Why would a student who has no interest in the elections need to look further than the candidate they’ve seen plastered across social media? Who cares about the actual implementation of their policies when the meme pages you know and love support them?

This exact problem was seen once again with Aldo Manella, VP for Student Engagement. He was the admin of @templeman.memes, and was able to use his almost 5,000 followers to gain support for the election. Once again, for students who didn’t care about the elections but had grown to appreciate Aldo’s bathtub Q&A’s, it was an easy call to vote for the one name they recognised and trusted.

This year, I was more optimistic about the elections. I felt that the lack of meme page admins running for office would create a more equal platform. Unfortunately, I was once again proven wrong. It’s already clear that meme pages call the shots in the Kent Union elections. Endorsements by popular UKC pages are all it takes to win. For proof, one need look no further than Frost and Manella. Popular UKC confessions page @kentunifess backed his memer friends Josh and Aldo, encouraging his followers to vote for the pair and look where that got them.

What’s concerning about meme pages essentially controlling the outcome of the election is that they are neither qualified to determine who the most capable candidates are nor are they representative of the entire student body. The follow count of the most popular UKC memes page, @imjustukc, is equivalent to approximately half of the student population. If even half his followers voted for the candidates the page endorsed, we’d see some of the highest ever voter turnout and a guaranteed win for those candidates. And yet, that would still only be 25% of students.

Meme pages aren’t required to give any explanation as to why they’re endorsing a certain candidate. Many of Frost’s policies (keeping the sports centre open 24/7 and reducing Co-Op prices to name a few) were totally impossible to execute, but that didn’t matter when he was friends with popular accounts who made it look like voting for him was the cool thing to do. If meme pages are thus able to influence who people vote for on such a large scale, we can hardly call our elections democratic.

When a meme page like @kentuni_memes lashed out at Presidential candidate Samir Sadeghi with allegations of him being a “fascist” in the comment section of a meme about the candidate's uniform policy, another worrying aspect of their level of influence came to light. (The allegations came after it was revealed that the candidate had liked an image celebrating the British union of fascists and Oswald Mosley.) Meme pages can act as harbingers of doom for any campaign hopeful, without anyone to check the factual accuracy of their claims or whether such claims are being presented fairly before troops are rallied to denounce a candidate.

When Samir made a statement about harassment and how it has affected him, several meme pages then signed a statement against the harassment of candidates put out by @SabbWatch, an independent student news show covering the elections. While this was the responsible and right thing to do, the damage had been done. The memes and the comments about Samir are still up.

Whether accusations against Samir are valid or not is besides the point here: meme pages have too much power not only over the campaign but over the university experience and future career prospects of candidates without any oversight.

So, what’s the solution? I truly believe that Kent Union elections can only be democratic if public meme accounts stick to providing only objective information about candidates. Sure, we might see an even lower voter turnout. But at least the votes will be based on policies, not popularity.

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First published in 1965, InQuire is the University of Kent student newspaper.

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