A bunch of huge Instagram meme accounts, including @FuckJerry and @Tank.Sinatra, posted sponcon Wednesday night for Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg.
The memes, written in the form of fake DMs between Bloomberg and the accounts, playfully roast the billionaire candidate whose campaign leans heavily on online advertising, and who has come under scrutiny for his record of over-policing black and Latino men when he was New York City mayor.
The meme campaign includes many accounts with several million followers each, who have formed a company called “Meme 2020.” They are @MyTherapistSays, @WhitePeopleHumor, @TheFunnyIntrovert, @KaleSalad, @Sonny5ideUp, @Tank.Sinatra, @ShitheadSteve, @adam.the.creator, @moistbudda, @MrsDowJones, @TrashCanPaul, @cohmedy, @NeatDad, @FourTwenty, @GolfersDoingThings, @DrGrayFang, @MiddleClassFancy, and @DoYouEvenLift, the New York Times first reported.
@KaleSalad is a meme account run by BuzzFeed employee Samir Mezrahi. The company allowed him to post the sponsored content as a member of its Creators Program, which allows some non-news employees to monetize their own social media channels.
While BuzzFeed News employees are not permitted to express partisan political views or donate money or time to candidates, non-news employees are not bound to those rules.
"This deal was done between the campaign and Kale Salad exclusively — which is allowed under the guidelines of our Creators Program,” said BuzzFeed News spokesperson Matt Mittenthal. “The employee who oversees The Salad is not a News employee.” Mittenthal declined to comment on whether BuzzFeed would reconsider its policy of allowing non-news employees to accept money from political campaigns.
The lead strategist for “Meme 2020” is reportedly Mick Purzycki, CEO of Jerry Media, the company behind @FuckJerry. @FuckJerry has been criticized for stealing memes — at one point there was a copyright lawsuit that was later dropped — and helped promote the disastrous Fyre Festival.
Not all the major meme accounts are apparently in support of the campaign. Josh Ostrovsky, who runs the account @thefatjewish, which is often compared to @FuckJerry, criticized @tank.sinatra in a comment on his post.
“Tank you’re a beautiful man, but this is an L,” @thefatjewish commented.
Ostrovsky said he had been approached to participate in the campaign, but declined based on Bloomberg’s record, he said in a comment on @tank.sintra’s post.
Under Bloomberg, the New York City police department routinely stopped, questioned, and frisked men in minority communities — a practice Bloomberg repeatedly defended though it was sharply criticized as racist and, at one point, declared unconstitutional by a federal judge. (That judge was later removed from the case, but the police department still overhauled the problematic program.)
It was also revealed under Bloomberg — who worked with City Council to change term limits so he could run for mayor a third time — that the NYPD was systematically surveilling Muslims. The city settled a lawsuit and agreed to make changes to the surveillance program. In 2008, Bloomberg also partially blamed efforts to reform the racist practice of “redlining” — essentially keeping minorities out of certain neighborhoods — as a cause of the 2008 housing crisis. (The crisis was caused by predatory lending practices.)
“I grew up in New York City so I can tell you firsthand, Bloomberg is a colossal shitbag,” Ostrovsky, who says he supports Bernie Sanders, wrote in the comment to @tank.sinatra. “From the subjugation of minorities through stop and frisk policies to his hardline anti-marijuana stance, dude is a total hoe.”
“I’d encourage any meme account owner to take schmoney from basically any brand (and use it to buy sick shit like jetskis and pure bred corgis) because brands are trash and deserve to have their money taken,” he continued. “But this dystopian black mirror simulation is too much for me i now need to be shot into the fucking sun k bye.”
While Bloomberg has been rising in the polls, he is far from a frontrunner for the Democratic primaries. He previously did not qualify to participate in debates due to his low number of donors. After a change of DNC rules, he may be allowed at the next one.
"Mike Bloomberg 2020 has teamed up with social creators to collaborate with the campaign, including the meme world,” Bloomberg campaign spokesperson Sabrina Singh told BuzzFeed News. “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." Singh declined to comment when asked how much they paid for the sponcon.
A meme strategy is not necessarily new to presidential politics. In his 2016 election, Trump benefited from far-right corners of the internet making memes on his behalf — at the time it was part chaos, part racism, part shitpost, part genuine support.
"I'm fucking trembling out of excitement, brahs," one 4chan user wrote on election night 2016. "We actually elected a meme as president."
That support was relatively organic, unlike Bloomberg’s paid memes.
Trump’s campaign for 2020 also heavily utilizes social media, as it did in 2016, especially microtargeted Facebook ads. Earlier this year a top Facebook executive said in an internal memo that Trump “got elected because he ran the single best digital ad campaign I’ve ever seen from any advertiser.”
Bloomberg recently came under fire for his record on stop-and-frisk this week over a surfaced recording of him talking about the policy at the Aspen Institute in 2015.
“Ninety-five percent of your murders — murderers and murder victims — fit one M.O.,” Bloomberg said in the speech. “You can just take the description, Xerox it, and pass it out to all the cops. They are male, minorities, 16 to 25. That’s true in New York, that’s true in virtually every city.”
“One of the unintended consequences is, people say, ‘Oh my god, you are arresting kids for marijuana. They’re all minorities,’” he continued. “Yes, that’s true. Why? Because put all the cops in minority neighborhoods. Yes, that’s true. Why do we do it? Because that’s where all the crime is.”
As Bloomberg recently built his campaign, he apologized for stop-and-frisk, saying he has “taken responsibility for taking too long to understand the impact it had on Black and Latino communities.”