‘Binders Full of Women,’ other Internet memes trump voter issues

Tumblr / Today

Veronica De Souza isn’t a paid political consultant, according to the Wall Street Journal. She’s a 23-year-old laid-off social media manager who launched the instantly viral “Binders Full of Women” Tumblr in response to an awkward phrase that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said during Tuesday night’s debate.

Keep scrolling to see the best of the “Binders Full of Women” meme.

Before the debate was over, De Souza published her first post, a picture of a Trapper Keeper school binder emblazoned with the message “TRAP HER KEEP HER,” the WSJ reports. From 5,000 Tumblr followers within the first hour, to more than 11,000 followers, and 1,800 submissions to De Souza’s meme-collecting blog by Wednesday afternoon, it’s no wonder the campaign of Romney’s opponent, Barack Obama, paid Twitter to promote the incumbent president’s tweet on the topic:

@BarackObama Mitt Romney still won’t say whether he’d stand up for equal pay, but he did tell us he has “binders full of women.” OFA.BO/LMVWmZ  

“Women in Binders.” Those three words serve to throw into question Romney’s resolve regarding job equity for women, while provoking a little giggle to distract us from more deeply questioning his opponent’s own track record on the issue. It’s a simplified message that goes on the attack, the kind introduced by Campaigns, Inc., the first political consulting firm dating back to the 1930s, recently profiled by Jill Lepore in the New Yorker piece, “The Lie Factory.” Back then, and decades since, campaigns carefully crafted such messages to take down opponents.

Related: Binders full of funny: Romney meme spurs fake Amazon reviews

“Attempting to connect with Mitt Romney”BuzzFeed via pantslessprogressive / Today


Now, like “Fired Big Bird” — the implication that Romney would financially cripple a beloved, publicly funded television character from our childhood — “Women in Binders” is spreading another negative Romney message so simple and crafty, suspicious types might wonder if it came from inside the Obama campaign. Because hey, all the quickest, catchiest memes in this, our very first “social media election,” favor the incumbent president.

Know Your Meme / Today

Planted anti-Romney memes aren’t so unfathomable once you recall, say, the Federal Communications Commission’s investigation into allegations George W. Bush’s administration planted more than a few fake news segments.

Indeed, De Souza certainly reads like she came out of central casting — a young, unemployed Hofstra graduate of 2011 hoping the attention she’s received from her successful viral campaign turns into employment while Obama is still in office. But she also fits in well with your basic user of Reddit, the social news site where many an image macro-turned-meme are generated.

“The people who tend to make these (memes) are younger, and the young tend to skew liberal,” the Daily Dot’s Kevin Morris told TODAY.com.

As a staff reporter at “the paper of record for the Web,” Morris spends many an hour researching and reporting stories among redditors. The Reddit community “has a really strong, left-leaning bias,” he added. By and large, “it’s definitely pro-Obama.” 

Keep scrolling to see the best of the “Binders Full of Women” meme.

It’s no conspiracy those image macros — still images or video screenshots accompanied by funny phrases stamped on in bold white text — turn up so quickly, says Morris. “That’s the whole point.”

He adds, “What’s more, Reddit — like other social forums — engenders such creative competition.”

Related: Binders full of funny: Romney meme spurs fake Amazon reviews

“On places like Reddit, you want to be the first to get it posted, get the most up votes, the most most karma. On Tumblr, you want to be the person who gets the most reblogs and shares. It’s language that the Internet. It’s visual and it’s sharable and it usually it conveys a really simple message.”

Think of it as the requisite all-caps “FIRST!” for clever people.

Brad Kim of Know Your Meme sees it like this: “I think Twitter, rather than Reddit, is probably the No. 1 breeding ground of covert election campaigns on the Internet,” he told TODAY.com. “Political conversations on Twitter are far more polarized and confrontational, are somewhat more difficult to trace the origin of and most importantly, they’re often self-contained among other partisans who share the same beliefs.”

“By far, Mitt Romney has been the frontrunner of election-related memes in terms of both quantity and quality (meaning exploitability or how exploitable the candidate’s public image is) since the primary season, especially after Herman Cain dropped out of the race,” Kim said.

Know Your Meme / Today

“I think to an extent, this trend mirrors the traditional pattern of election coverage in the news media, which tends to focus on scrutinizing the lesser known challenger rather than the incumbent. Another element that may have contributed to Romney’s exploitability is his self-crafted public image as a veteran corporate executive, which has been a walking target for mememakers since the beginning of the Occupy movement last year,” Kim said.

Know Your Meme / Today

If this is the first “social media election” — as NBC News’ Bob Sullivan reports in a recent piece, Obama is certainly the most social media-savvy president — that or he hires people who are social media savvy. Note how the President logged on to Reddit for a surprise “Ask Me Anything” Q&A with the public, right in the middle of the Republican National Convention. It was a historic move that stole the GOP’s spotlight, at least for those in the Reddit demographic.

“Obama’s AMA event during the RNC is certainly an example of how the president’s re-election campaign has taken advantage of its online supporter base,” Kim said. “It was also framed at the right time in the right place where the user base tends to lean towards left anyway. Some conservative blogs raised speculations that some of the questions answered by Obama had been planted by Redditors who signed up only hours prior to the event, but there’s really no solid evidence to support this. As for Romney, his campaign also came under some questioning when his Twitter followership skyrocketed from the average daily gain of 3,000 to 4,000 new followers to well over 90,000 followers per day in late July.”

What’s more, while Romney’s team may be the first presidential campaign to purchase a “sponsored hashtag” on Twitter, Obama seems to know that the real way to steer a social media conversation is to buy into a Twitter trend that’s already started.

Keep scrolling to see the best of the “Binders Full of Women” meme.

The Romney campaign paid for the hashtag #AreYouBetterOff, launching the initiative at the top of Twitter’s trending list during the Democratic National Convention. Though it attempted to inspire criticism of Obama administration’s handling of the economy, BuzzFeed’s Russell Brandom calculated that it resulted in a “Mockery Ratio of nearly 5:1” — with five tweeters arguing that they were better off with Obama, for every one tweeter giving the Romney-supporting answer of “no.” Here’s an example:

#AreYouBetterOff ? Sure am. My wife and I are now gainfully employed and can almost afford to vote #republican but we’re still voting #Obama 

“What’s certain is how memes and viral media have become the linguafranca of political discourses for the everyday supporters of both parties, and how responsive the campaign organizers are in picking up on these points to their own ends,” said Know Your Meme’s Kim. “Obama’s’You Didn’t Build That’ comment, Biden’s laughing streaks and Romney’s ‘BigBird’ have all been incorporated into campaign advertisements paid within days.”

Know Your Meme / Today

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, when the Obama campaign paid to promote the president’s “Women in Binders” tweet, it was buying into an established Internet meme, successfully paying to be part of the Internet’s inside joke. But then again, as both parties demonstrate, paying to play to your base is always cheaper (and way easier) than candidly addressing issues. 

Update: An earlier version of this story incorrectly credited Veronica De Souza for launching several Twitter accounts.


Helen A.S. Popkin goes blah blah blah abut the Internet. Tell her to get a real job on Twitter and/or Facebook. Also, Google+.