Digital activism started with KONY 2012, which asked people to highlight the crimes of an African warlord in an attempt to help a global manhunt to catch him. The ALS ice bucket challenge aimed to raise awareness of the horrors of a degenerative disease.
The latest iteration of what’s also called “clicktivism” has a slightly less noble, but no less motivating, goal: To make fun of Elon Musk.
Thousands of Twitter users have posted the same single phrase—“buying twitter for $44 billion to make it worthless in the span of 2 weeks is the closest Elon Musk will get to donating money”—since 3 pm Eastern Time Tuesday at the exhortation of a social media marketer to bombard the platform with the message.
Saeed Awawdeh, a 25-year-old working on social media marketing in New York, who posts as @SaeedDiCaprio on Twitter, first came up with the idea earlier today while working at home. “This was orchestrated during my bathroom break ngl to u,” he said via—what else?—Twitter DM.
The social media marketer says he quickly threw the tweet together in a short break from his desk, before posting it to the social network. “There were no thoughts in my head,” he says. “I just tweeted it and called it a day, I guess.” However, he does admit that the missive stemmed from an anxiety about the future of Twitter, which Musk has said could fall into bankruptcy if big changes are not made to its staffing and business model.
“I’ve been a content creator on the app for a while now, so seeing a lot of my friends leave the platform, as well as not knowing if my job of running the Twitter of different companies will even be here in two weeks kind of sucks,” he says.
The original tossed-off tweet has captured the imagination, with thousands of users deciding to join in by tweeting the same text. “I’m happy with the spread of the tweet,” says Awawdeh. “My favorite part about Twitter is being part of a conversation and a community, and being the one to spearhead that always leaves a feeling of satisfaction when it does happen.” He tweeted a screenshot of what appeared to be a notice from Twitter of a violation of the social network’s hateful conduct policy and a demand to delete the tweet, but he told Gizmodo the image was a joke.
Among those joining in is Pease Anderson, a table top roleplaying game designer and journalist from Chicago, IL. He decided to tweet the phrase after becoming exasperated at the direction of travel Twitter was headed under Musk. “Every day I wake up to see this site drawn and quartered a little bit more by a ruthless owner,” he says. “The least we can do is work collectively to shitpost our way through it.”
“The meme is obviously humorous because it’s almost playing at a serious political movement, it started as a throwaway joke and nobody actually expects anything meaningful or material to come from this,” says Alex Turvy, a meme researcher at Tulane University in New Orleans. “But the provocation is also important: Musk has turned into this common enemy—he’s literally made himself formally the Twitter character of the day for…ever?—and it’s a way of feeling like people have some agency or efficacy against this way more powerful person who couldn’t care less about users.”
The grassroots, Twitter-born protest has similarities with the sorts of copypasta (blocks of meme-worthy text that are copied and pasted across the internet) that are often more commonly used by Musk supporters. It also has echoes of the scene from the 1960 movie Spartacus, where hundreds of individuals stand up to claim they’re the eponymous character played by Kirk Douglas while saying “I’m Spartacus!”.
Turvy believes that shared understanding is what makes this such a potent meme. “It’s been hard to keep up with each day’s Twitter chaos, but this project seems like it’s going to stick in the collective Twitter memory as part of the ‘jokelore’ that relies on a cultural memory that is shared collectively,” he says.
As for what Awawdeh hopes to achieve? Recognition from Musk that the billionaire may have made a misstep (or several). “The people that make this app what it is are truly not satisfied with the direction he’s taking the app in,” he says. “I have been a loyal creator on here, and having generated billions of impressions and engagements within the platform without getting paid by the platform itself— I felt that a paywall to access the reach that I have built was a slap in the face to Twitter creators, including myself.”