On the eve of Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration, Brian Truebe, better known by his Twitter handle @EmergencyPuppy, tweeted a photo of a fluffy beagle clutching a leash in its mouth. For years, Truebe had posted heart-melting photos of bright-eyed dachshunds and soft-fur labs, garnering more than 500,000 followers. But after Trump was elected, the concept took a sharp turn.
The image of the soft-eyed beagle pup came with a classic anarchist refrain: “No Gods, No Masters.”
It’s difficult to scroll through Facebook without coming across at least one video of a cat, and Twitter is rife with accounts dedicated to images of “doggos” and “puppers.” But in addition to light-hearted entertainment, many purveyors of cute-animal pics have political ideologies they want to share. During Brexit, people in the “Remain” camp posted images of their cats and dogs along with their concerns towards the opposition and the hashtags #CatsAgainstBrexits or #Mutts4Remain. Supporters of the alt-right have paired their messages with Matt Furie’s bug-eyed cartoon character “Pepe the Frog”—who’s more comical than cute, but still a disarming face alongside white-supremacist sentiments.
This habit of tag-teaming political messages with the softening blow of animal imagery has only increased across social-media platforms as Trump took office. And while it’s difficult to measure their impact, there’s a cognitive explanation behind their appeal: Cute animals might actually make people more receptive to politicized messages.