Sabirah Mahmud was watching one of Joe Biden's new Democratic presidential campaign ads recently when she got a shock: her own face flashing across the screen as part of a montage of fans.
In fact, the 17-year-old doesn't support the former vice president. Mahmud, a supporter of Bernie Sanders, had only attended the Biden event to ask him a question about climate change policy.
The high school junior from Philadelphia told BuzzFeed News she did a double-take when a friend sent her the Biden's recently released two-minute promo video on YouTube. Around the 1:30 mark, the camera pans over an enraptured crowd listening to Biden and lands on Mahmud, wearing glasses and a soft pink hijab.
"I honestly have no idea how that happened," she said, laughing. "I found out last night and was like, What the heck?"
Last May, during Ramadan, the high schooler and activist went to Biden's kickoff rally on a sweaty Saturday in Philadelphia. A national leader with the US Youth Climate Strike, Mahmud, along with several other organizers, decided to attend the event in hopes of asking Biden if he would commit to a debate on climate change. At that time, the grassroots movement was asking each Democratic presidential candidate whether they would stand up, address, and debate climate change.
After Biden had finished speaking, she said he walked through the crowd. That's when she got up the courage to ask if he would commit to participating in a forum dedicated to debating climate policy.
"I screamed I have a question and I was so nervous and I felt I was going to puke," she said. "And then midway through he interrupted me and didn't let me speak and mansplained that he was an expert on climate change."
US Youth Climate Strike tweeted a clip of the moment right after it happened, telling Biden that "we didn't get to finish [asking] if you would commit to a #climatedebate."
"In the video, I was saying my name, where I live, and my experience with the campaign, and before I could ask the question, he cuts me off and told me to go to his website and see his work, like he has been doing this forever and had better authority," Mahmud explained. "He said, 'Send your question to my staff.'"
She remembers feeling frustrated. Biden never handed her a card or gave her a way to contact his staff before walking away.
Filming the crowd at political rallies and speeches is routine for nearly all campaigns, organizations, and activist marches. Hopeful candidates often use photos and videos from their events for their social media platforms and future ads. Biden's staffers have put up filming notices at his gatherings marking areas where people who do not want to be captured on camera could stand. A spokesperson for Biden did not say whether those signs were at his Philadelphia kickoff.
On Sunday night, when a friend sent her a screenshot of her quizzical face from Biden's new campaign ad, Mahmud was shocked.
"I don't look happy to be there," she said. "I look critical and I remember while I was there they were having a Christian prayer and I was one of the few Muslims there."
Mahmud says she wished his campaign knew the context of why she was there. She couldn't help but feel like she was included "for face value."
"I feel like it isn't right," she said. "Biden barely gave a piece of mind to what I was talking about and mansplained climate change action to me but my family is Bangladeshi and I have seen the firsthand effects of climate change and for a white man in a position of power who has not done a lot for climate change to tell me to go to his website. This affects my own identity and people."
Mahmud added she decided to tweet about the Biden ad to clarify her position, pointing out that, a few days earlier, she had posted a series of selfies for the popular Twitter campaign, #hotigirlsforbernie.
"I tweeted about it and it started to get a lot of hype and then I was doing my AP US History homework in my room and my phone started blowing up," she said.
More than 1,800 accounts have retweeted the post. People's replies were akin to a massive face-palm emoji and thought the whole thing was hysterical.
"This is my favorite tweet," read one reply.
"YES MA’AMMM!!" another person wrote.
Biden's campaign declined to comment to BuzzFeed News on the ad, Mahmud's tweet, or allegations that she was included because of how she looked.
Mahmud said it's hard to not feel like the Biden campaign chose her because she is a "brown, Muslim, 17-year-old girl."
"I think, yes, it’s infuriating that I’m used as a token, but I didn’t really also think that this would have gotten the attention it did," she said in a text. "If I did have the chance though, I would 100% love to have a conversation to ask why I was put in the video/the motive of me being in it."