Washington DC — Alex Sass was raised in a conservative, Baptist household in Texas but, like her friends, she says she became “very liberal” in middle school.
“I was not super educated on politics, but I didn’t agree with my parents,” Sass said in a phone interview with YR Media.
Her views changed in the lead up to the 2016 presidential election.
“Everyone was expecting me to support a certain candidate,” Sass said. “But just because I am a woman doesn’t mean I like Hillary.”
As for what actually brought her over to the right, Sass points to YouTube and cites Steven Crowder and Ben Shapiro as two of her favorite political commentators
Now at 19, she runs her own page on a different social network and hopes to bring more young people over to the right. Her Instagram account @conservative__americans has more than 55,000 followers, and the majority of its posts are memes. Sass provided YR Media with a current school photo ID as proof of her age.
“Politics is such a serious conversation, so sometimes humor is the way to get in there,” Sass said. “No one wants to read a giant article on why border control is necessary. It’s easier to post memes, and maybe that inspires people to do their own research.”
Sass began working on the page because she wanted to show young people the other side to the liberal narrative she believes a lot of traditional news sources provide.
“It’s really about opening up people’s minds to others' viewpoints and maybe seeing an argument they didn’t think of before,” Sass said.
The biggest group of Sass’s followers are between the ages of 18 and 24, and Sass is not alone. Young conservatives across the U.S. are using Instagram meme accounts to mobilize their peers for 2020.
These accounts are often similar in appearance. The phrases “pro-Trump,” “Trump 2020,” “pro-life,” “anti-socialist” and “exposing the left” are common in their bios.
Their memes are pretty much the same, too, and often shared amongst multiple accounts. Many images attack Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez all while promoting Donald Trump.
Others will point out trends in liberal activism that conservatives see as hypocritical. One recent post on @conservative__americans features a picture of a woman with a “my body, my choice” t-shirt holding up a sign saying “mandatory vaccines now.”
Sass said her most popular posts are the ones that “address really controversial topics, like abortion, marijuana legalization, or gay marriage.”
To drive up engagement on these photos, she’ll often include a question in the caption, sometimes one as simple as “thoughts?” These questions bring comments, and the more comments a post gets, the more people see the meme.
Sass also collaborates with other conservative meme accounts. “We do shout out for shout-outs with other big pages,” she said.
The founder of @conservative.teen.girl, an account with just over 6,000 followers, does the same. “It is very common to partner with conservative pages,” she said.
While online, @conservative.teen.girl goes by the pseudonym Kat. She says she is 16, but full disclosure: the 11th grade school ID she provided YR Media as proof of her age is heavily redacted.
These conservative accounts are rallying a base of young voters for 2020. They’ve also been called out for spreading misinformation.
Gen Z has been called the most progressive generation in the U.S. today. Statistics back up this claim. But Kat and Sass aren’t sure this trend will stick a few years from now.
“I have no idea what’s going to happen,” Sass said. “I live in Austin, and it’s liberal here, but I’ve heard people say they see lots of conservative kids emerging.”
Kat thinks the statistics may be skewed. “I know many conservatives in real life who have felt the need to stay closeted in terms of how they feel about their politics,” she said.
She also believes that Instagram may play a role in changing the politics of Gen Z.
“I feel as if conservatives are using social media platforms to their advantage in order to educate younger people,” Kat said. “Personally, I don’t find many liberal accounts on Instagram. Liberal activism I have encountered has been via Instagram comment sections.”
She acknowledges she may have this perception because she doesn’t seek out liberal accounts. Meme accounts on the other side of the aisle definitely exist — @activistbitches, one of the larger ones, has more than 40,000 followers.
For her part, Sass is betting on the power of conservative memes in 2020, and she thinks her account is fulfilling its purpose.
“It’s been effective,” she said. “I’ve gotten more than several DMs that say, ‘Hey, because I follow your account, I’ve really opened up my perspective on a few things.’”