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Mike Bloomberg Pays Meme Accounts for Campaign Promotions

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  • The Michael Bloomberg campaign has partnered with Meme 2020 to promote his presidential campaign on popular meme accounts like fuckjerry and kalesalad.
  • While the campaign and some of the accounts involved think this is an effective form of messaging, some have criticized the accounts and Bloomberg for using this strategy. Meme account thefatjewish said he rejected Bloomberg’s offer to post a meme for the campaign.
  • While these accounts are being paid to post about Bloomberg, critics have pointed to people like Ethan Klein and Joe Rogan, who have made endorsements based on their own political beliefs.
  • Since buying meme posts is something of a new political strategy, it is unclear if this can move the needle the same way a formal endorsement does. 

Bloomberg Promotes Campaign Via Meme Accounts

Michael Bloomberg’s campaign is partnering with high-profile meme accounts to promote his campaign for the 2020 Democratic nomination.

According to a New York Times report, Bloomberg is working with Meme 2020, a company that works with over a dozen meme accounts, totaling over 60 million followers. Posts went up on several accounts on Wednesday. The lead strategist of Meme 2020, Mick Purzycki, is the chief executive of Jerry Media, a social media company that has faced controversies for stealing content and promoting the infamous Fyre Festival.

Jerry Media runs a popular Instagram account called fuckjerry, which boasts 14.9 million followers. That account posted a Bloomberg meme structured like a direct message from Bloomberg to fuckjerry.

“Hello Jerry. My granddaughter showed me this account,” the fake message from Bloomberg reads. “Your memes are very humorous. Can you post a meme that lets everyone know I’m the cool candidate.”

“What did you have in mind?” fuckjerry responded. 

Bloomberg then sends a picture captioned “when you’re the cool candidate” that shows him wearing an objectively uncool outfit. Fuckjerry agrees to post it for the modest price of one billion dollars, and Bloomberg asks for his Venmo. 

Memes have also been posted to other popular accounts, including tank.sinatra, which has 2.3 million followers; grapejuiceboys, which has 2.7 million followers; and kalesalad, which has 3.5 million followers. The memes there also follow the Bloomberg-just-slid-into-my-DMs format. Each post is explicitly captioned to say the post was paid for or sponsored by Bloomberg’s campaign. 

All of them contain the same thematic sense of self-awareness and irony: Bloomberg is old, rich, and out of touch and wants to be cool with the kids. In one post, Bloomberg botches the Bernie Sanders “I am Once Again Asking” meme format, but still hopes tank.sinatra can use it to make him look cool. In another, he sends kalesalad a joke about kale salads. The account tells him it’s not very funny but is swayed by Bloomberg’s billion-dollar offer and ultimately agrees to share it.

This is not the first time Bloomberg’s campaign has dabbled in meme or social media culture. In early February, the Team Bloomberg account tweeted a video calling Trump a “liar liar pants on fire” while the gingerbread man from Shrek danced around him.

During a January Democratic debate that Bloomberg did not attend, the account also live-tweeted a series of jokes. 

Reports also say that Bloomberg has spent big dollars on Facebook ads, and has also offered influencers money for sponsored posts

Online Responses

The latest sweep of sponsored meme posts has been met with mixed reactions online. While some comments on the Instagram posts express praise and support, there is also a lot of criticism. 

On the fuckjerry post, users have said things like “this sucks” or “unfollow.” Model and actress Emily Ratajkowski commented, “this is not a good look for you.”

Thefatjewish, who has 11 million followers on his meme account, commented on tank.sinatra’s post saying he was also offered an offer to do this but actually turned it down. He said that growing up in New York City himself, he disagreed with Bloomberg’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy and anti-marijuana stance. 

“I’d encourage any meme account owner to take schmoney from basically any brand…because brands are trash and deserve to have their money taken,” thefatjewish wrote. “But this dystopian black mirror simulation is too much for me i now need to be shot into the fucking sun k bye.”

Bloomberg’s memes started a large conversation on Twitter, too. Many criticized both Bloomberg for buying space for memes and the meme accounts for taking his money. 

Others, however, found it creative and called it a “brilliant instagram ad strategy.”

Support from Accounts and Campaign

According to those involved in this meme campaign, it could be an effective strategy. George Resch, who founded tank.sinatra, told the New York Times that this was a successful ad for him. 

“It’s the most successful ad that I’ve ever posted, and I think a lot of it came from people being confused whether or not it was real,” he said.

Sabrina Singh, a spokesperson for Bloomberg explained the campaign’s thinking to the Times.

“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,” she said. 

President Donald Trump’s boisterous social media presence seems to be a major reason Bloomberg is working the meme angle. An aide for his campaign said they want to change the Democratic Party’s approach to the Internet. 

“The way Trump’s campaign is run is extremely social first,” the aide said to the Times. “We’re trying to break the mold in how the Democratic Party works with marketing, communication and advertising, and do it in a way that’s extremely internet and social native.

The Impact of Endorsements

These sponsored posts have also sparked a larger conversation about social media and political endorsements. As the Times noted, other big Internet names have gotten vocal about the 2020 election. Both YouTuber Ethan Klien and podcaster Joe Rogan endorsed Bernie Sanders, and endorsements from these kinds of individuals can prove to have a large impact. 

Vice wrote a piece saying that Rogan’s endorsement is “one of the most influential in America.”  

“Rogan’s endorsement matters doesn’t depend on whether Rogan himself is GOOD or BAD, it’s whether his endorsement moves the needle,” the piece reads. “And given how much discussion there is about his endorsement and what we know about Rogan’s overall influence, it almost certainly does.”

There is, however, a key difference between Rogan’s and Klein’s endorsements and paid social media campaigns for Bloomberg. While those two spoke out because they believe in Sanders as a candidate, fuckjerry and others posted on their accounts because they had a financial incentive to do so. 

Because meme accounts supporting candidates is somewhat uncharted territory, it is unclear what the impact here could be. What we do know is that when celebrities speak out based on their core beliefs, it actually can make a huge difference. 

During the 2018 primaries pop star Taylor Swift endorsed Tennessee Democrats and encouraged her followers to register to vote, leading to a massive spike in voter registration. Vote.org saw 65,000 registrations in a single 24-hour period. For comparison that’s more than the amount of people who registered throughout the whole month of August that year. 

Singer Ariana Grande has also been vocal about politics. She has given an endorsement to Bernie Sanders and encouraged her fans to vote. In December, she broke the record for the number of voters registered during a tour. 

See what others are saying: (Axios) (Forbes) (The Hill)

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Trump Slams Oscars for Awarding South Korean Film Best Picture

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  • At a Colorado rally on Feb. 20, President Donald Trump bashed the Oscars for giving this year’s Best Picture award to “Parasite,” a South Korean film. 
  • He instead called for movies like “Gone With the Wind” to return, a production that has been criticized for romanticizing slavery. 
  • Additionally, Trump called Brad Pitt a “little wise guy” for making a joke about the president’s impeachment trial during his Oscars acceptance speech.
  • In response to his remarks, the U.S. distributor of “Parasite,” dissed the president for not being able to read the film’s subtitles. 
  • Others also gave Trump backlash for not liking the film because it revolves around a struggling Asian working-class family.

Oscars Jab

At a rally in Colorado on Thursday, President Donald Trump took a dig at the 2020 Oscars for awarding Best Picture to the South Korean film “Parasite.” 

“By the way, how bad were the Academy Awards this year?” Trump asked the crowd in Colorado Springs, who responded with boos. 

“And the winner is a movie from South Korea, what the hell was that all about?” Trump asked. “We got enough problems with South Korea with trade. On top of it, they give them the best movie of the year.”

Despite his criticisms, Trump went on to imply that he didn’t even watch the film. 

“Was it good? I don’t know,” he said. 

Credit: CBS News

“Parasite” made history earlier this month when it became the first film in a non-English language to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. On top of that, the movie took home awards for Best Original Screenplay, Best International Language Film, and Best Director—Bong Joon Ho.  

These accomplishments didn’t seem to impress the president. Instead, he called for movies like “Gone With the Wind” and “Sunset Boulevard” to return. Both films feature white stars and were directed by white men. 

Released in 1939, “Gone With the Wind” centers around a plantation-owning family in 1861. Accounting for inflation, it still holds the record for the highest-grossing film in U.S. history. But in recent years, the film has largely gone from a revered American classic to a piece of work examined and criticized for its romanticism of slavery. 

Also at Thursday’s rally, Trump slammed Brad Pitt, who made a joke about the president’s impeachment trial during his Oscars acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actor.

“They told me I only have 45 seconds up here, which is 45 seconds more than the Senate gave John Bolton this week,” Pitt said at the awards show on Feb. 9. 

The “Once Upon A Time in…Hollywood” star was referring to the former national security advisor who had not been allowed to testify in the impeachment trial. 

“And then you have Brad Pitt. I was never a big fan of his. He got up, said a little wise guy statement. Little wise guy. He’s a little wise guy,” Trump said on Thursday.  

Clap Backs Against POTUS

The president’s critiques of the Academy Awards did not go unnoticed. Though “Parasite” is in Korean, it’s accompanied by English subtitles. Neon, the film’s U.S. distributor, responded to Trump’s remarks in a biting tweet. 

“Understandable, he can’t read,” the company said in their reactions to Trump’s dislike of the movie.

Neon added the hashtag #Bong2020 in reference to the film’s director.

The Democratic National Committee also weighed in, adding their own diss to the president. 

“Parasite is a foreign movie about how oblivious the ultra-rich are about the struggles of the working class, and it requires two hours of reading subtitles. Of course Trump hates it.”

Other Twitter users chimed in with similar messages condemning the president. 

“Anyway parasite is still the best movie of the year Trump’s racist ass can cry about it,” one person said.

See what others are saying: (NBC) (Washington Post) (The Hill)

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UCLA Drops Controversial Facial Recognition Plan

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  • After backlash from students and activist groups, UCLA is dropping its plans to use facial recognition on campus.
  • Critics said the software often fails when recognizing women and people of color, and could lead to racial profiling. 
  • UCLA released a statement, just over a week before a National Day of Action to Ban Facial Recognition from College Campuses is set to be held, saying that the school longer thinks the technology would be effective at the school.
  • The use of facial recognition software on college campuses and on a national level has long been a subject of debate. Several cities have already banned it, and last week, two Senators proposed legislation banning it on a federal level unless Congressional guidelines are enacted. 

UCLA Stops Plans to Use Facial Recognition

After backlash from students and activists, the University of California, Los Angeles has dropped its plans to use facial recognition technology on its campus.

UCLA announced plans to potentially use it in its security systems. Students were concerned that this technology could interfere with students’ privacy and lead to racial profiling on campus. 

“We have determined that the potential benefits are limited and are vastly outweighed by the concerns of the campus community,” Michael Beck, the Administrative Vice-Chancellor of the school said in a statement to Fight for the Future, a group advocating for freedom in the digital age.

Fight for the Future is holding a National Day of Action to Ban Facial Recognition from College Campuses on March 2. The group had been very vocal when encouraging UCLA not to adopt facial recognition. They did a test on how effective it would be at the school and found racial biases in its algorithm.

Inaccuracies in Facial Recognition

Fight for the Future used Rekognition, a software made available by Amazon, and scanned publicly available photos of UCLA athletes and faculty and compared them to a mugshot database. They scanned 400 faces in total and said that 58 were falsely matched. 

“The vast majority of incorrect matches were of people of color,” Fight for the Future said of their findings. “In many cases, the software matched two individuals who had almost nothing in common beyond their race, and claimed they were the same person with ‘100% confidence.’”

They are not the only group to find this. According to a study from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, in terms of one-to-one matching, there are higher rates of false positives for Asian and African American faces in comparison to white faces. They specifically noticed increased false positives when it came to African American females.

Student Concerns

Students at UCLA expressed their concerns about this. An editorial in the school’s paper, the Daily Bruin, warned against using facial recognition because of the potential inaccuracies and profiling of people of color.

“For students belonging to these groups, facial recognition technology would simply reinforce the biases that are already stacked against them,” the piece said. The editorial listed privacy as a concern as well.

“Facial recognition technology would present a major breach of students’ privacy and make students feel unsafe on a campus they are supposed to call home,” the Daily Bruin editorial staff wrote. “It is one thing to monitor campus activity with security cameras, but it’s another entirely to automatically identify individuals and track their every move on campus.”

Students and advocacy groups like Fight for the Future were pleased with UCLA’s ultimate decision to not use facial recognition.

“Let this be a lesson to other school administrators: if you try to experiment on your campus with racist, invasive surveillance technology, we will come for you. And we don’t lose,” Deputy Director of Fight for the Future, Evan Greer, said in a statement.

Facial Recognition on a National Scale

UCLA is not the only college in the United States having a conversation about facial recognition. Fight for the Future has been keeping a scorecard of schools that have stated their intentions on using facial recognition. While big schools like Harvard, MIT, Michigan State, and NYU have said they do not intend on using it, other major colleges like Ohio State, Princeton, and the University of Georgia have stated that they might. 

Outside of colleges, other localities have already been working on fighting against facial recognition technology. In 2019, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to ban facial recognition technology. Somerville, MA, Oakland, CA and Berkeley, CA did the same months later. 

Still, this kind of technology is still used on a wide scale. According to Vox, in states like Texas, Florida, and Illinois, the FBI uses it to scan through DMV databases. In many U.S. airports, Customs and Border Protection uses it for screening passengers on international flights. 

Recently Proposed Legislation

The national use of this could be subject to change, though. In February, Senators Jeff Merkley (D-)R) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) proposed legislation that would ban federal use of facial recognition until proper regulations and rules had been established by Congress for it.

“Facial recognition is a technology that is increasingly being used and marketed to law enforcement agencies across the United States without appropriate debate or consideration of its impacts,” the bill said before describing that this technology has been used at protests, rallies, and other events where one’s’ freedom of speech is on display.

“It is critical that facial recognition not be used to suppress First Amendment related activities, violate privacy, or otherwise adversely impact individuals’ civil rights and civil liberties,” the legislation continued. 

This legislation would still allow law enforcement to use it if given a court order.

See what others are saying: (Vice) (USA Today) (TechCrunch)

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Fashion Institute Apologizes for ‘Racist’ Runway Look

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  • In a Feb. 7 Fashion Institute of Technology runway show, models were asked to wear oversized prosthetic lips and ears, along with bushy eyebrows. 
  • Amy Lefévre, a black model, refused to wear the accessories and called them racist for recalling offensive caricatures of black people. 
  • Many agreed with Lefévre and criticized the designer and the showrunners for the display.
  • Multiple leaders at FIT have issued apologies in the wake of the backlash.

Controversial Accessories

Several head figures at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology have issued apologies after a runway show featured designs that many have labeled “racist.”

The show was held on Feb. 7 to debut designs of graduating students. For one look, designed by Junkai Huang, models were asked to wear oversized prosthetic lips and ears, as well as bushy, large eyebrows. Amy Lefévre, a black model, was horrified at the request. 

“As soon as I saw the pieces, I started shaking. I felt it was very racist,” Lefévre told TODAY

Lefévre said she verbally expressed her discomfort with the accessories, which to her were reminiscent of offensive caricatures of black people that emphasize those features. But Richard Thornn, the producer of the show, allegedly brushed off her resistance.

According to TODAY, Lefévre claims that he told her, “it’s only 45 seconds. It’s fine to feel uncomfortable for 45 seconds.”

The 25-year-old refused to don the accessories and walked in the show without them. However, other models in the show wore the additions, and these looks were seen by an audience of about 100 people as well as captured by photographers.

Reactions and Responses

Upon seeing the pictures from the show and catching wind of Lefévre‘s protest, many Internet users supported the model and condemned both the designer and the institution for allowing it.  

“Junkai Huang should go back to school for something other than fashion because his designs are racist and this is unacceptable,” one person tweeted. “FIT how could you allow this?”

In the wake of the backlash, FIT President Joyce Brown issued a public letter on Tuesday. 

“As many of you now know, there was an unfortunate and disturbing reaction to the show that I want to address,” Joyce wrote.

She claimed that no offense was meant.

“Currently, it does not appear that the original intent of the design, the use of accessories or the creative direction of the show was to make a statement about race; however, it is now glaringly obvious that has been the outcome,” Brown added. “For that, we apologize—to those who participated in the show, to students, and to anybody who has been offended by what they saw.”

Brown said the school is taking steps to “ensure that a situation like this will not happen again” by working with groups including their Diversity Council and Student Government.   

Jonathan Kyle Farmer, the chair of the MFA program at FIT who ran the show, posted an apology on Wednesday acknowledging Lefévre directly.

“It was never our intent for the show’s styling to be interpreted as racist or to make people feel uncomfortable but I now fully understand why this has happened,” Farmer said. “I take full responsibility and am committed to learning from this situation and taking steps to do better.”

//www.instagram.com/embed.js

This is by no means the first racially-insensitive blunder that the fashion industry has made. Last year, Gucci came under fire for releasing a black turtleneck with lips that could be pulled around the face, resembling blackface. Burberry faced backlash for a sweatshirt featuring a noose-like drawstring around the neck. In 2018, H&M was slammed for an ad featuring a black boy wearing a pullover that read “coolest monkey in the jungle.” 

Many seem to be fed up with these errors. 

“How do people not understand that this isn’t ok and keep doing it again and again and again?” one Instagram user commented on a picture of the show posted by a fashion industry watchdog account. 

See what others are saying: (USA Today) (BBC) (Washington Post)

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