Michael Bloomberg’s presidential campaign recently sponsored Instagram posts from meme accounts, notably the popular meme accounts @fuckjerry and @grapejuiceboys. These posts are generally screenshots of direct messages sent from Mike Bloomberg himself awkwardly trying to appeal to the youths.
The conversations depicted in these screenshots are generally Bloomberg either pitching a deliberately unfunny meme or asking the meme account to make a new meme. It’s truly terrible and shows how little traction Bloomberg is likely to get among young voters.
Facebook went as far as changing its rules surrounding sponsored political posts Friday, requiring disclaimers for paid promotions. It’s relatively uncharted territory, legally speaking, since posts from social media influencers aren’t necessarily covered under existing legislation.
So long as transparency is explicitly mandated by social media platforms, there likely isn’t a dangerous precedent being set here. It is kind of sad that supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., can create these kinds of memes organically. Many attribute Sanders’ success to his supporters’ memes. As far back as the 2016 Democratic primary, the Facebook group “Bernie Sanders’ Dank Meme Stash,” has been a successful factory for these memes.
Even Marianne Williamson has her own “Orbposting” group on Facebook, also a result from her popularity among younger voters while she was still a contender in the primary.
The crucial difference between Bloomberg’s memes and the memes from these other candidates is that Bloomberg had to pay for people to make them. That’s not something a charismatic candidate needs to do.
“While a meme strategy may be new to presidential politics, we’re betting it will be an effective component to reach people where they are and compete with President Trump’s powerful digital operation,” says Bloomberg campaign spokeswoman Sabrina Singh, according to the New York Times.
That quote is tone deaf and ignores that, in addition to extravagant advertising spending, Trump has the benefit of inspiring social media influencers with his personality alone. The meme strategy isn’t being adopted by other candidates simply because they already have supporters making memes for free.
This is straightforwardly damage control after a recent audio leak of Bloomberg speaking favorably of the stop-and-frisk policy that targeted black and Hispanic citizens in New York City, where Bloomberg was mayor. That policy has been widely criticized as racially motivated, especially Bloomberg’s embrace of it while in office.
It remains to be seen whether this new controversy will bury the previous one, but the optics aren’t great.
“Racist former mayor” is going to be a hard reputation to shake. “Racist former mayor who needs to pay people to make jokes about him” is going to be written on the campaign’s headstone.
Liam O'Sullivan (he/him) is a senior studying film and is an editor-in-chief of the Hoosier Flipside.