Having a (country)ball- Geopolitics on Facebook and Instagram
Cecilia Andersson,Sylvain Firer-Blaess, Bastian Jörgensen, Asaf Nissenboim, Ayan Rakoub, Jennifer Veldman
Political Memes, Geopolitics, Digital Methods
Countryball is a meme that appeared on the Krautchan.net in 2009 and has since spread and become a global meme. The meme depicts flags of different countries turned into balls. The meme was originally created to poke some fun with a particular user of Krautchan.net but is now used to describe different political matters in a comical way. Some of the Facebook groups associated with various countryballs explicitly state that their aim is to create geopolitical satire. The first countryball to appear was Polandball and there are now many different national countryballs and most countries are represented. This is an interesting meme because it allows us to identify the concerns of netizens (active Internet users) towards geopolitical matters.
We conducted a network analysis based on data from co-hashtags with "Countryballs" from Instagram and analyzed this using Gephi. Through our network analysis we found that 40% of the co-hashtags related to other topics (such as love), 30% related to European countries and 30% non-European countries.
Then we performed list-building with the help of the Hashtag Instagram Explorer and the Netvizz application for Facebook. This enabled us to find the countries that were the most co-hashtagged with the term countryball. We found that these were hashtags Polandball and Turkeyball. Then we ranked the lists based on the number of likes and hearts in order to identify the most popular memes. We selected the 10 first memes of the two lists to conduct a qualitative analysis. We thus, proceeded to analyze 40 images in total; 20 from Polandball and 20 from Turkeyball.
- Network Analysis
- Create picture sample (ranked according to most liked pictures on Facebook and Instagram)
- Content Analysis
The outcome of our project can be divided into three interrelated main points:
- Geographical dimensions of the countryball memes
- Relation between hashtags and contents of the memes
- Themes depicted in the memes
First, through the network analysis we found that the the Countryball meme connects to many parts of the Globe. We found that 30 percent of co-hashtags with #countryball refer to national countryballs within Europe and 30 percent refer to national countryballs outside of Europe. In regards to geographical dimensions we found that #countryball works on several geographical dimensions at once, for instance a meme might be attached with #countryball and #Polandball and #Russiaball at once. Furthermore, the content of the particular meme might bring in even more nations in the actual meme. This relates to our second point of the relationship between hashtags and contents of memes. While we found several hashtags (such as #love or #kebab) attached to #countryballs, hashtags used in regards to countryballs most often did not point to the actual content of the meme but rather to the countries for which the meme was intended for. More than 9 out of 10 of the analyzed memes were written in English, which points to the fact that they are intended for an international audience.
With our qualitative content analysis we found some recurrent themes which we refer to as customs, tensions and alliances. For instance wiith #polandball, many memes were relating to the aftermath of the fall of the soviet union, depicting geopolitical situation that concerned quarrels about national borders and new diplomatic alliances.
Image 1. Example of the cartoon "Countryball"
. In this example we can see that the countryball concept is being used to refer to a current news issue, that of the legislation for gay marriage in the United States.
Image 2. Lists from Facebook and Instagram to find relevant Facebook pages and Instagram tags.
The top ranked pages "Polandball" and "Turkeyball" choosen as the focus for the project based on the results from these lists.
Image 3. Network from Instagram showing the significance of Polandball & Turkeyball
Image 4. Filtered Network (
Green= European countries, Blue= Other countries, Red=Tags not related to countries). The image shows the hashtags co-ocurring with #countryballs.
Image 5. Map showing the "users" of the Countryball cartoon (Instagram data)
Image 6. top 20 relevant pictures ranked according to likes.
When conducting the content analysis, memes that did were not "countryball-memes" were removed from the list.
Image 7. content analysis (Turkeyball on Facebook)
. For the content analysis we had set categories of "Countries" and "English" prior to vieweing the images as we wanted to investigate which countries were depicted in the memes and also what language the were in. The themes grew out of the analysis of the memes.