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Sorry, Biden, Dark Brandon memes and a new TikTok account won’t win over young voters

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President Joe Biden is like the Steve Buscemi meme in “30 Rock,” undercover as a teen dressed in a backward cap and band t-shirt, with a skateboard over his shoulder desperately pleading with Gen Z: “How do you do, fellow kids?”

The meme was posted at the same time Israeli forces attacked Rafah.

Or at least that’s what his new presence on TikTok and embracing of Dark Brandon memes feels like. In a lukewarm attempt to go head-to-head with conservatives and Donald Trump as 2024 election campaigning gears up — the President is trying to own the GOP by pulling a move from the internet trolling playbook. Namely, the President is embracing a meme the right created to secretly and openly insult him in 2021 after the right began using the phrase “Let’s Go Brandon.” Which just allowed them to codeswitch and say “F**k Joe Biden” without really saying it. 

The meme called “Dark Brandon” is a menacing photo of the president with glowing red eyes, similar to “The Boys” villain Homelander’s malevolent glare. It has been embraced by Biden and even now is a part of his 2024 campaign website.

The President used the meme in an X post after the Chief’s Super Bowl win to address right-wing Taylor Swift conspiracies with the mocking caption, “Just like we drew it up.”  Viewed 220 million times, the post was met with fury from X users and praise from some Reddit users. Unfortunately for the social media team running Biden’s account, the meme was posted at the same time Israeli forces attacked Rafah in southern Gaza, a region that Palestinians were told was a safe zone by Israel.

This incident led to people accusing the president of insensitivity, ignoring the perilous humanitarian crisis in Gaza and funding the killing of more than 28,000 Palestinians. As a result, many young online users are unconvinced by Biden’s social media campaigning, and in fact view his ironic online humor to be alienating.

One post by someone in their 20s, which was viewed five million times, said, “This is what the President of the United States is tweeting while over 1 million men, women and children are being slaughtered with weapons he has provided and paid for.”

Another said, “White House staffer: (as US bombs dismember kids in Rafah) ‘if the Chiefs win don’t forget to send out the Dark Brandon meme abt Taylor & Travis.'”

One account posted, “I don’t think it’s particularly helpful for a president running for reelection to tweet memes that only his blindly liberal supporters will think are ‘epic’ while validating the conspiratorial anger of the far-right, and leaving those who want him to stop funding genocide lost.”

Reporter Talia Jane even went so far as to equate Biden’s actions as aligned with conservatives, posting on X, “As Israel concludes its suspiciously-timed attack on Rafah, signed off by Biden, Biden’s social team takes to Twitter to directly nod to the conspiratorial far-right with a meme that was injected into the mainstream by neo-Nazis and white nationalists.”

During the 2020 election, young Democratic voters were a large key voting block that campaigned and voted for Biden to secure his contested win against Trump. However, things have changed since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel and the unprecedented, full-scale Israeli military assault on Gaza, which has resulted in the displacement of two million Palestinians, according the Human Rights Watch. A New York Times poll in December showed that only 3% of voters from the ages 18-29 strongly supported the President’s handling of the Israel-Gaza war with more than three-quarters of these voters strongly disapproving.

Another poll from the University of Maryland–Ipsos reported that from October to November, the number of young Democrats who viewed Biden as “too pro-Israel” increased from 21% to 42%. Despite or perhaps because of those worrying numbers of disenchanted young voters, Biden’s team decided opening a shiny, new TikTok account would be the right move to lure in the youth vote.

However, conservatives have noted that the app’s algorithm shares inflammatory videos against Israel and appears to lean pro-Palestine. It’s a platform that is dominated by young people – of its 150 million American users, a reporting states that 80% are between the ages 16-34 – and young people tend to be more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

On Biden’s new TikTok account @bidenhq, the Dark Brandon meme is used for the profile picture. In one video post that attempts to be funny, the President walks by reporters who ask him, “What are you giving up for Lent?” to which he responds cheekily, “You guys!” The caption reads, “Dark Brandon jumps out.”

Despite the innocuous content, the video’s top comments are people asking, “What about Rafah?” This isn’t the only video with such responses. If you scroll through the comments of each of the TikToks, there are hundreds of watermelon emojis, a resistance symbol for the pro-Palestine cause, and numerous pro-Palestine comments.

Despite the innocuous content, the video’s top comments are people asking, “What about Rafah?”

Another popular TikTok account called Meet Cute NYC, which stops couples in the street and asks them how they met, also gets into the Biden on TikTok action. In the video post, Meet Cute stops the President and first lady Jill Biden at the White House and asks them to share their love story. Not distracted by this feel-good fuzzy content, people have bombarded the comments section with mentions of viral Palestinian journalists, Bisan Owda and Motaz Azaiza, who have documented the war daily on TikTok. “Hoping Bisan and Motaz will be able to tell us when they met their loved ones,” reads one post.

We can’t know for sure if this social media strategy will ultimately result in young voters showing up to the polls on Nov. 5. But one thing is clear, his social media usage hasn’t been a resounding success. Instead, it’s been met with people ignoring his messaging – whether it’s calculated trolling or straightforward election campaigning – and refocusing back on what really matters to them: Palestine. These issue-based voters who helped Biden secure his 2020 win have seemingly become disillusioned by the American government due to the Congressional-backed bills sending money and weapons to Israel and the lack of collective humanitarian action by Western countries. It seems they do not need any more disingenuous pandering in their chronically online internet worlds. So for the love of God, put down the Dark Brandon memes.

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