Mike Bloomberg’s presidential campaign has begun to purchase meme advertisements on Instagram. The meme campaign was organized by Meme 2020, a new company comprised of many influential meme makers including the CEO of Jerry Media, Mick Purzycki.
The memes were all styled as fake direct messages from Bloomberg and were posted on at least 22 accounts, including Instagram meme juggernauts grapejuiceboys and kalesalad. The accounts have nearly 59 million followers between them. On Feb. 14, Facebook announced that unlike traditional campaign advertisements, memes are not subject to audience review because Facebook does not earn profit. However, sponsored memes must utilize Facebook’s sponsored content tools.
First-year Philosophy, Politics and the Public major Andrew Titgemeyer realized the memes were sponsored even before sponsored content tools were utilized.
“I knew they were paid for by a political campaign because they weren’t funny… they felt like something an old person running a social media account for an elderly man’s political campaign would do,” Titgemeyer said.
The use of memes for political gain is not a new phenomenon, Andrew Zolides, a communications professor who specializes in digital media, explained.
“The difference here is this extreme feeling that it is inauthentic and bought. It seems counter to the definition of memes,” Zolides added.
Zolides defines memes as “attempts to describe the discreet units of social expression that get passed down.”
Under this definition, jingles, inside jokes and the three lined S can all be described as memes, according to Zolides. Memes are “popular culture not from the top down; but from the bottom up,” Zolides said.
Bloomberg’s use of memes differs from other candidates’ campaigns, such as Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign. “Some memes can start at a grassroots level and then (be) taken by a campaign,” Zolides said.
One example of memes on a grassroots level is the meme that was created when a bird landed on Sander’s podium during a 2016 speech.
The image of the bird and Sanders was shared online before being coopted and built upon by the Sanders campaign.
“The difference in this case is that (the) idea of paying for a meme… The whole point of a meme is to participate in a culture… When (corporations post a particular meme), the meme is considered dead,” Zolides added.
Zolides feels that Bloomberg purchasing memes fits the larger corporate vs. grassroots debate of the 2020 campaigns.
“You can’t buy a meme, so in some senses; that can give a candidate a feeling of authenticity that you don’t get seeing an ad run on TV or Hulu,” Zolides said. “It’s the same idea as the frustration about money standing in for honest support. In a weird way, memes have become an interesting flashpoint for the much larger debate Democrats and the country are having.” Bloomberg’s personal contributions outweigh contributions by other wealthy candidates. CNN’s Fredreka Schouten reported that Bloomberg has spent $464 million on his campaign since November. In 2016, President Trump spent $66 million of his personal wealth on h