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A Quick Way to Go Viral in Politics? Get Your Ad Banned

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All it took was a shocking 30-second ad for Eric Greitens to become a trending topic on social media this summer.

The Missouri Republican Senate hopeful’s ad starts with him walking up to a home, shotgun in hand and pistol on his hip. He says the target “feeds on corruption and is marked by the stripes of cowardice.” After a team of men in military fatigues ram the door down, Greitens walks in saying he’s acting on behalf of former President Donald Trump’s political movement, hunting “RINOs” — a mocking abbreviation among conservatives, “Republicans In Name Only.”

The ad was quickly pulled down by Facebook and labeled as “abusive” by Twitter. That’s when Greitens’ real ad campaign began.

After social media sites acted against his video, Eric Greitens posted that it was available on the Washington Post website. 


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As condemnation swiftly came from across the political spectrum, Greitens reveled in his sudden virality. A former Navy Seal, Greitens’ political career was already filled with controversy, including accusations of sexual abuse and campaign finance violations that ultimately led him to resign his position as Missouri’s governor in 2018. Now, he was again the center of attention. “Thank you to @WashingtonPost for hosting our video on their website!” Greitens tweeted, alongside a link to a story from the paper. “Everybody can visit the link below to see our new ad!”

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Within the first 24 hours, Greitens claimed, his video had already been watched at least 3.5 million times. And to the outrage, he doubled down, calling his critics either liberal or “RINO snowflakes,” while claiming his ad was meant to be humorous. The Missouri Fraternal Order of Police said in a statement at the time that the “deplorable” video “sends a dangerous message that it is somehow acceptable to kill those who have differing political beliefs.” Greitens didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Citizen NowCitizen Now

CNET

The extreme ad marked the latest in a new class of political posts to social media designed to be censored, baking in outrage from all sides. The strategy bets on a phenomenon known as the Streisand Effect, where efforts to censor something brings far more attention than if it had been left alone in the first place. As a result, the ensuing drama helps the original post go that much further.

Though these types of ads aren’t widespread, they are growing in popularity, marking a sign of how militantly extremist rhetoric is becoming part of mainstream Republican politics. Along with it, condemnation has turned into a badge of honor among radicals, rather than a critical tool meant to restrain them. As their viral posts go ever further, they supercharge fundraising efforts in the process.

“They’re not stupid — they’re very good at grabbing attention,” said Mike Rothschild, a journalist whose book The Storm Is Upon Us dissects viral extremism among Trump supporters on social media. “It’s campaigning through trolling.”

Sorry, Coke and Pepsi

Though the world of politics is somewhat new to the phenomenon of social media stardom through internet infamy, it’s something the entertainment world’s known for decades.

Musician Barbra Streisand became inexorably linked to the idea in 2003, when she sued a photographer for posting a photo of her Malibu seaside home on his website about coastal erosion. Only six people had downloaded the image before she sued, but media coverage of the case drew hundreds of thousands of people afterward.

Companies soon realized they could leverage infamy to get free advertising. Home beverage device maker SodaStream did exactly that in 2014, when it said it’d hired then-29-year-old movie star Scarlett Johansson to tape a steamy commercial for the Super Bowl. In it, Johansson praises the home-mixed soda while she suggestively sips from a straw.

Scarlett Johansson drinking a SodaStream sodaScarlett Johansson drinking a SodaStream soda
Scarlett Johansson’s ad with SodaStream quickly went viral when Fox attempted to censor it before the Super Bowl in 2014. 


SodaStream

Fox reportedly refused to run the ad without edits, and a wave of media attention followed, leading more than 3.5 million of people to watch the “banned” “uncensored” ad on YouTube before the game even began. Entrepreneur Magazine declared the fracas a coup for SodaStream, declaring “Want your ad to go viral? Get a TV network to ban it.”

While other companies leveraged the “banned” label for attention, most stuck to suggestive themes. It’s only been in recent years that the tactics have veered toward more extreme topics like violence.

Trump supporters in line with a Trump flagTrump supporters in line with a Trump flag

James Martin/CNET

Anger into clicks

Not all politicians are using violent rhetoric and lies to go viral. Moderates have learned, for example, that goading extremists into attacking them helps to spread their message too.

That’s what longtime Republican strategist Reed Galen began work on when he co-founded a political action committee called the Lincoln Project in 2019, to attack Trump. Galen’s group “didn’t have that much money” to run traditional TV ads. So, instead, they began posting videos to social media.

In May 2020, as the presidential election was heating up, the group posted a video called Mourning in America, mimicking a popular spot from President Ronald Reagan’s campaign but instead using it to attack Trump over his handling of the economy and COVID-19 pandemic. Trump railed against the ad on Twitter, helping it pull in more than 15 million views, as well as coverage from mainstream press.

“We’re driving a message based on the fact that the candidate we’re after doesn’t like it,” Reed said. “Social media isn’t the real world, but it is real and it has the ability to bleed through.”

Today, similar organizations are quickly popping up. There’s MeidasTouch, another political action committee that launched in April 2020, with biting posts and video ads with viral hashtags like #DiaperDon. Another is Republican Voters Against Trump, which used video testimonials from former Republicans to dissuade voters from supporting Trump in 2020.

Though success is sometimes hard to gauge past video views and retweets, in the case of the Lincoln Project, much of the effort is directed toward trolling Trump himself.

Read more: The Normalizing of Extreme Politics Is Playing Out on Twitter

On the right, there don’t appear to be high-profile ad makers using these tactics but rather social media stars, pundits and politicians themselves. Extremist conservative media stars frequently go viral for their outlandish posts, and some have begun using a similar Streisand-like model where being “banned” is achievement.

Steven Crowder, a popular conservative YouTuber, was blocked from running ads on his channel in 2019 after a series of mocking homophobic attacks toward another personality. He immediately used it as a fundraising tactic, selling similarly offensive T-shirts. A year later, he’d gained over a million new subscribers and hosted other controversial extremist conservatives like Donald Trump Jr. and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene similarly turned her permanent suspension from Twitter in January for spreading COVID-19 disinformation into fundraising appeals, asking for “emergency contributions” to “fight big tech censorship” and the “Silicon Valley Cartel.”

Greene, who’s embraced far-right conspiracy theories, quickly became one of the biggest fundraisers for Republicans, raising more than $11 million ahead of the 2022 midterms. She also continues to post on Telegram, which is a popular alternative social network among extremists.

Win, then loss

Though some online personalities have been able to turn outrage into larger fame and riches, it doesn’t always stay that way. Conspiracist Alex Jones saw revenue for his InfoWars media empire skyrocket after Apple, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and others kicked him from their platforms in 2018. They acted after Jones spent years spreading harassing lies about perceived enemies, including his years-long insistence the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre that killed 26 people, most of whom were children, was faked.

His success soured this year, though, after juries in Texas and Connecticut ordered Jones to pay nearly $1 billion to the victims’ families after a series of defamation trials. (Undeterred, he urged followers to help fund his appeal.)

Alex Jones gestures with his hands at his broadcast desk.Alex Jones gestures with his hands at his broadcast desk.
Alex Jones turned his niche conspiracist publication into a goldmine for himself, and a powder keg for others. 


Screenshot by Joan E. Solsman/CNET

As for Greitens, the Missouri Republican Senate hopeful went from polling ahead of his opponents when posting his video this June to losing his primary bid in August.

Since then, he’s only posted to Twitter twice. Both times, he claimed political opponents and his ex-wife had lied about him, without acknowledging the criticism he received from his own party. Greitens ultimately received less than 19% of votes cast, placing third in the primary. His 124,155 votes were less than half those of the winner.

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Macron shows his politics on Russia are bush league

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What’s wrong with French President Emmanuel Macron? First, he needlessly tells Russian dictator Vladimir Putin that there are two conditions under which France might cease supplying weapons to Ukraine: “We will never compromise the ability of our army to defend our own territory and our citizens. We will also never supply such weapons that would make us a party to the conflict as a result of their use for attacks on Russian territory.”

One doesn’t have to be a Metternich to appreciate that it’s unwise to tell your enemies what you will or will not do before you enter into negotiations with them. The smart thing is to keep the adversary in the dark, guessing about your intentions. What Macron did was simply bush league, evidence of either arrogance or ignorance or both. Then, a little later, he outdid himself when he proclaimed: “We need to prepare what we are ready to do, how we protect our allies and member states, and how to give guarantees to Russia the day it returns to the negotiating table. … One of the essential points we must address — as President Putin has always said — is the fear that NATO comes right up to its doors, and the deployment of weapons that could threaten Russia.”

This statement is inane. For starters, let’s remind the French president that, with Finland’s admission into NATO, the alliance has come right up to Russia’s door and that the strategic nuclear weapons that could threaten Putin’s realm are primarily based, and will continue to be based, in the United States, the United Kingdom and — oh, yes — France. Deploying nukes on the Finnish border may send a signal of NATO’s toughness, but it effectively does nothing to enhance Russia’s insecurity or the West’s security. And everybody knew, and knows, that the West would have to be completely daft to base nuclear weapons in, of all places, Ukraine, which isn’t a NATO member.

Moreover, both Putin and Macron know full well that the armies that come under the NATO umbrella are, with the exception of those of the United States, United Kingdom and Poland, in miserable shape, having been severely neglected since the fall of the Berlin wall. America may pose a threat to Russia, but NATO does not. That Russians insist that it does is either self-serving propaganda meant to justify Putin’s militarism, imperialism and fascism or delusional paranoia rooted in Putin’s worldview that pits Russia against the world. Either way, the West needs to counter collective Russia’s mendacity or fantasies, not with mollycoddling but with straightforward explanations of reality.

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But what really takes the cake in Macron’s statement about security guarantees for Russia is its silence about security guarantees for Ukraine — an issue on which France thus far has been notably silent. Surely, one can’t provide guarantees to a self-styled great power with a huge nuclear arsenal without at the same time providing guarantees to the country that it has invaded and subjected to a genocidal war. Now, Macron has also expressed his unwavering commitment to Ukraine, so it’s highly unlikely that he intends to sell Ukraine down the river while providing guarantees to Russia. No, it’s the incoherence of his thinking that is most striking — and alarming. He’s the president of a powerful and influential country. He should know that guaranteeing Russia’s security is infinitely harder than guaranteeing Ukraine’s, and since Europe isn’t all too keen on the latter, how can he reasonably expect it to be keen on the former?

Besides, just how does one guarantee the security of an imperialistic, warmongering, fascist state ruled by a leader who seems delusional? The comparison with Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia is unavoidable. Imagine Adolf Hitler’s insistence in 1939, just before his attack on Poland, on security guarantees. Or Joseph Stalin’s insistence in 1948, after the Communist takeover of Eastern Europe, of similar guarantees. Just what could such guarantees possibly have entailed? And wouldn’t the priority be to guarantee the security of the countries being threatened?

Hélas, Monsieur le Président needs to go back to his books and do a bit of thinking. Otherwise, he risks becoming risible, hardly the quality that would guarantee his security as president or his ability to deal with the Putin threat.

Alexander J. Motyl is a professor of political science at Rutgers University-Newark. A specialist on Ukraine, Russia and the USSR, and on nationalism, revolutions, empires and theory, he is the author of 10 books of nonfiction, as well as “Imperial Ends: The Decay, Collapse, and Revival of Empires” and “Why Empires Reemerge: Imperial Collapse and Imperial Revival in Comparative Perspective.”

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Eric Melillo MP – Week in National Politics Dec 5 2022

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Kenora MP Eric Melillo

Kenora – Politics – It was great to be back in Red Lake this weekend to walk in the Santa Claus parade, thank you to all the volunteers who helped organize it.  

Canada Summer Jobs Applications Open 

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The Canada Summer Jobs application for employers has opened and will be accepting applications until January 12, 2023.  I encourage all applicable businesses in the region to consider applying.

Bill C-21 Amendment 

This week I attended the Public Safety committee and expressed my opposition to the proposed Liberal amendment to ban many firearms traditionally used for hunting.   

My message to the Liberal and NDP Members of Parliament was clear: taking away firearms from hunters, trappers, and sport shooters in northwestern Ontario will do nothing to make urban cities safer.   

For many in our region, hunting is a way of life, an important tradition, and a way to put food on the table. But the Liberals don’t understand that.  

I have appreciated so many people from our region reaching out to my office, expressing their opposition to this amendment, and sharing the role hunting, trapping, and sport shooting play in their lives.  I’ve been able to share some of your stories, vocal opposition, and concerns with the government. I hope they’ll recognize how out of touch and problematic this proposal is and immediately withdraw it.  

My Conservative colleagues and I will continue to advocate against this amendment.  I encourage those who oppose this amendment to share your opposition with the Minister of Public Safety, Marco Mendicino.  You can email him at: marco.mendicino@parl.gc.ca

National Council for Reconciliation 

For the past few weeks at Indigenous and Northern Affairs committee I’ve been working on Bill C-29, which will create a National Council for Reconciliation.  This Council will hold the government responsible on the path to reconciliation and provide updates on the progress made on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action.  

I was pleased to see Bill C-29 passed in the House of Commons and look forward to working with my colleagues to advance reconciliation. 

Working for You

If you’re planning to be in Ottawa and are interested in attending Question Period or taking a tour of Parliament, please let me know, and my office can help reserve Question Period and tour tickets.

As always, if there is anything my office can assist you with, please call me at 807-223-2182 (Dryden) or 807-468-2170 (Kenora) or email me at eric.melillo@parl.gc.ca.  

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How Harlem Shaped Warnock’s Faith and Politics

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Senator Raphael Warnock’s time in New York City as a seminary student and pastor helped set him on a path to politics, forging how he operates in the Senate and on the campaign trail.

Four days before the November midterm elections, Senator Raphael Warnock slipped away from the campaign trail in Georgia to deliver a eulogy in Harlem.

His mentor — the Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts III, a powerful and politically astute preacher who led Harlem’s storied Abyssinian Baptist Church — had died at the age of 73. At the memorial service, Mr. Warnock told the crowd of mourners about the intersections of faith and public life that had shaped Mr. Butts’s work, and his own.

“Calvin Butts taught me how to take my ministry to the streets,” Mr. Warnock said at a service that drew former President Bill Clinton, Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. “He understood that the church’s work doesn’t end at the church door. That’s where it starts.”

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Mr. Warnock now finds himself locked in one of the last and most closely watched elections of the 2022 midterms — a Georgia runoff on Tuesday against a Trump-backed Republican rival, Herschel Walker.

The hallmark of Mr. Warnock’s political persona has been firmly rooted in the present, through his position as senior pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had preached. But a lesser-known chapter from Mr. Warnock’s past — his time spent in New York City starting in the 1990s, as a student at the Union Theological Seminary and as a pastor at Mr. Butts’s church — in many ways set him on a path to politics, shaping how he operates in the Senate and on the campaign trail as he runs for re-election.

According to nearly a dozen seminary classmates and elected officials who knew him at the time, Mr. Warnock’s New York experience helped cement his instincts to channel the teachings of his faith into social justice activism. It’s an approach that propelled him to Washington, where he was one of seven ordained ministers when he arrived in Congress last year.

“In the beginning it was really watching him straddling the church and the academy,” said the Rev. Cathlin Baker, a friend who attended Union Theological Seminary with Mr. Warnock. “Expressing his faith in the public square emerged through his time in New York.”

One of the young men Mr. Warnock worked with as a youth pastor at Abyssinian went on to become the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg.

Mr. Bragg got to know Mr. Warnock during visits home from college and described a “remarkable consistency” in his dual emphasis on pastoral duties and “what that means for greater Harlem, and the social issues, and the things we see him advocating for in Congress now.”

“There’s an indelible imprint of the church and Rev. Butts on him,” Mr. Bragg said, “and certainly of him on the church.”

The New York Times

Mr. Warnock was 22 when he arrived in New York in the fall of 1991, and he stayed for about a decade. The city was in the throes of a social and civic upheaval that would mold the next generation of Black political power, locally and nationally, serving as a proving ground for activists, pastors and elected officials.

There was Mayor David N. Dinkins, New York’s first Black mayor who confronted the Crown Heights riots the year Mr. Warnock came to town. And there was Eric Adams, a police officer who challenged police brutality and would become the city’s second Black mayor. The Rev. Al Sharpton made waves with his civil rights activism, while against that backdrop Hakeem Jeffries, a Brooklynite and future Democratic House leader, was beginning his career.

Mr. Warnock found work at Abyssinian, the spiritual home of the late Representative Adam Clayton Powell Jr. that has long been associated with Black civic engagement. It was during that time, as he absorbed the influences of Mr. Powell and Mr. Butts, that he believes running for Congress first crossed his mind, he wrote in his 2022 memoir, “A Way Out of No Way.”

He was living in New York when his brother was sentenced to life in prison in a nonviolent drug-related offense involving an F.B.I. informant, a seismic event in Mr. Warnock’s life that profoundly shaped his views of the criminal justice system. (His brother was released from a federal prison in Georgia in 2020.) And as episodes of police violence convulsed the city, Mr. Warnock came to believe that “it didn’t make much sense for us to be talking about justice in the classroom and singing about it in church if we weren’t willing to get in the struggle in the streets.”

He was arrested at a protest against police brutality as he honed his activism, the first of a few civil disobedience arrests in later years.

Mr. Warnock, who declined an interview request, grew up in Savannah, Ga., giving his first sermon at age 11, and headed to New York soon after graduating from Morehouse College. He struck his peers at the progressive Union Theological Seminary, in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights, as notably driven.

“He had a kind of seriousness of purpose and kind of like a clarity of career path that at that age I almost couldn’t imagine,” said Beth Stroud, a classmate who is now a lecturer at Princeton.

She and other classmates also described Mr. Warnock’s sense of humor. One night, she recalled, a group tried on each other’s eyeglasses — and one participant noticed no discernible difference upon trying on Mr. Warnock’s.

“After saying he wore them so he wouldn’t look so young and people would take him more seriously,” she added in an email, Mr. Warnock humorously demonstrated how the glasses could punch up a reading. “He said something like, ‘Our Scripture reading this morning is …’ and put them on with a flourish, as if to see the Bible more clearly.”

Ruby Washington/The New York Times

Asked about that anecdote, Michael J. Brewer, a spokesman for Mr. Warnock, replied, “Reverend Warnock wears prescription eyeglasses.”

Dr. Stroud and Mr. Warnock studied under the Rev. Dr. James H. Cone, a founder of Black liberation theology, which emphasizes the experiences of the oppressed. “We were all thinking about politics all the time, not necessarily in the sense of electoral politics,” she said, but, “if we believe in liberation, if we believe in God’s love for all people, how do we realize that in our work?”

At Union — and through his friendships with Dr. Stroud, who is a lesbian, and with other gay people — Mr. Warnock reconsidered church teachings opposing homosexuality, he wrote in his memoir. And at Abyssinian, Mr. Warnock plunged more directly into the world of New York politics and activism as he rose from intern minister and youth pastor to assistant pastor.

Abyssinian has long occupied a prominent place on the New York political landscape, propelled by leaders like Mr. Powell and Mr. Butts, the preacher who was deeply involved in civic issues and navigated relationships with a diverse array of politicians.

As an assistant pastor, Mr. Warnock publicly criticized the Giuliani administration’s implementation of a workfare program — which required welfare recipients to work for benefits — and made an impression on a number of elected officials himself, as well as on Mr. Butts.

“He could laugh easily, he could smile,” Mr. Butts told NY1 in 2021. “That made it possible for him to impress upon people the importance of an issue.”

C. Virginia Fields, the former Manhattan borough president and a member of Abyssinian, said that Mr. Warnock was regarded as part of a “bench” of future leaders.

“I don’t think he ever expressed it that way — that ‘I’m interested in running for office,’” she said. But “those of us in the political arena certainly saw him as someone one day running.”

Ruby Washington/The New York Times
Ruby Washington/The New York Times

Republicans, especially in his previous campaign, have used Mr. Warnock’s career and past sermons to try to paint him as radically left wing, characterizations that drew criticism from Black pastors.

This year, the Walker campaign has also slammed him over the housing allowance he receives from Ebenezer and over alleged conditions and eviction threats at an apartment complex with ties to that church. Mr. Warnock has called the allegations a “desperate” effort to attack Ebenezer. A representative for the complex told The New York Times that no evictions had been carried out since 2020.

His previous Republican opponent, then-Senator Kelly Loeffler, noted that Abyssinian had hosted Fidel Castro in 1995, and claimed that Mr. Warnock had “celebrated” and “welcomed” Castro to the church.

Mr. Warnock’s team did not respond directly when asked whether he attended the Castro event but pointed to fact-checks disputing Ms. Loeffler’s statement. A spokesman previously told PolitiFact that Mr. Warnock “doesn’t agree with the dictator’s beliefs and actions” and that Mr. Warnock was not making decisions at the time about who spoke at the church. The fact-checking outlet determined there was no evidence to Ms. Loeffler’s claims.

Stephen Lawson, who served as a top Loeffler campaign aide and advises a pro-Walker super PAC, said that Mr. Warnock’s time at Abyssinian was “part of a larger life story for him that helps kind of illustrate his beliefs.” Mr. Lawson cast those beliefs as left-wing and relevant to independent voters. “Part of me wishes that Herschel’s campaign would try to tell that story a little bit more,” Mr. Lawson said.

David A. Paterson, who was New York’s first Black governor and who met Mr. Warnock while representing Harlem in the State Senate, noted that Republicans have struggled before to define Mr. Warnock as outside the mainstream.

He is not “demanding that we turn the whole system upside down,” Mr. Paterson said. “I think he really seeks equality.”

Abyssinian Baptist Church in 1988.Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times

A series of stunning incidents of police brutality galvanized him to protest injustice more forcefully. In 1999, Amadou Diallo, an unarmed Guinean immigrant, was killed by officers who fired 41 shots, less than two years after another Black man, a Haitian immigrant named Abner Louima, was brutalized at a Brooklyn police precinct.

“Those real awful examples of police brutality that were happening in the city at the time kind of called a group of us into the public square,” Ms. Baker said.

After the Diallo shooting, Mr. Warnock went to a protest where, he wrote, he was arrested for the first time, shared a police van with then-Representative Eliot Engel and was quickly released. In his memoir, he described a scene in which groups of protesters “crossed the line of demarcation” and were arrested.

“He was not a activist that would do it every day like I would, but he would take a moral stand,” said Mr. Sharpton, who was heavily involved in organizing major protests after the Diallo shooting.

Mr. Sharpton described Mr. Warnock as “the guy that wanted to be a bridge between those of us that were active” and those who did not engage in civil disobedience. “He understood both worlds,” Mr. Sharpton added.

Just over two decades after that arrest, Mr. Warnock returned to Abyssinian for the eulogy.

“So much of who I am, and what I’ve become and what I’ve managed to do — and, as we say in Georgia, what I’m fixing to do again” — he owed to working with Mr. Butts, he said.

“I got a few things happening down in Georgia,” he told the New York audience. But, he added, “I had to be here.”

Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.

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