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

It only took 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 begins as he walks toward a house, shotgun in hand and pistol on hip. He says the target “feeds on corruption and is marked by cowardice.” After a team of men in military garb kick down the door, Greitens walks in and says he’s acting on behalf of former President Donald Trump’s political movement, chasing “RINOs” — a derisive acronym among conservatives, “Republicans In Name Only.”

The ad was quickly pulled down by Facebook and flagged as “abusive” by Twitter. That’s when the actual advertising campaign by Greitens began.

A tweet from Eric Greitens thanking the Washington Post for publishing his video.

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

CNET screenshot

As condemnation came swiftly from across the political spectrum, Greitens reveled in his sudden virality. A former Navy Seal, Greit’s political career was already fraught with controversy, including allegations of sexual abuse and campaign finance violations, which eventually led him to step down as Missouri governor in 2018. Now he was the center of attention again. “Thank you @WashingtonPost for hosting our video on their site!” Greitens tweeted alongside a link to a story from the newspaper. “Anyone can visit the link below to see our new ad!”

Within the first 24 hours, according to Greitens, his video had already been viewed at least 3.5 million times. And to the outrage, he doubled down on 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 “regrettable” video “sends a dangerous message that killing those who have differing political beliefs is somehow acceptable.” Greisen did not respond to a request for comment.

citizen now


The extreme display marked the latest in a new class of political office to censored social media outraged on all sides. The strategy relies on a phenomenon known as the Streisand Effect, in which efforts to censor something draw far more attention than if it were left alone at all. As a result, the drama that follows helps the original post go much further.

While these types of ads aren’t widespread, they’re growing in popularity and are a sign of how militant extremist rhetoric is becoming Part of mainstream Republican politics. At the same time, condemnation has become a badge of honor among radicals, rather than a critical tool designed to hold them back. As their viral posts continue to go viral, they are stepping up fundraising efforts in the process.

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

sorry coke and pepsi

Although the phenomenon of social media stardom is somewhat new in the world of politics, it has been well known in the entertainment world for decades.

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

Businesses soon realized they could use shame to get free advertising. Home beverage device maker SodaStream did just that in 2014, when it said it hired a then-29-year-old movie star Scarlett Johansson to record a hot commercial for the Super Bowl. In it, Johansson praises the homemade lemonade while sipping suggestively from a straw.

Scarlett Johansson drinks a SodaStream soda

Scarlett Johansson’s ad with SodaStream quickly went viral when Fox tried to censor it ahead of the 2014 Super Bowl.

soda stream

Fox reportedly refused to run the ad without modifications, and a wave of media attention ensued, resulting in more than 3.5 million people watching the “banned” “uncensored” ad on YouTube before the game ever started. Entrepreneur Magazine declared the uproar a coup for SodaStream, stating, “Do you want your ad to go viral? Have a TV network ban it.”

While other companies used the “banned” label to garner attention, most stuck to suggestive themes. Only in recent years have tactics evolved into more extreme issues such as violence.

Trump supporters in line with a Trump flag

James Martin/CNET

anger in clicks

Not all politicians use violent rhetoric and lies to go viral. For example, moderates have learned that getting extremists to attack them also helps spread their message.

That’s what the longtime Republican strategist says reed galen began work 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 television commercials. Instead, they started posting videos on social media.

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

“We’re getting a message across 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’s real and it has the ability to bleed through.”

Similar organizations are popping up fast today. There is MeidasTouch, another political action committee launched in April 2020, featuring scathing posts and video ads with viral hashtags like #DiaperDon. Another is Republican Voters Against Trump, which used video testimonies from former Republicans to dissuade voters from supporting Trump in 2020.

Although success can sometimes be hard to gauge by looking at previous video views and retweets, in the case of the Lincoln Project, much of the effort is focused on trolling Trump himself.

Continue reading: The normalization of extreme politics is happening on Twitter

On the right, there don’t appear to be high-profile advertisers employing these tactics, but rather social media stars, pundits, and politicians themselves. Extremist conservative media stars often go viral for their outlandish posts, and some have begun adopting a similar Streisand to use similar model where “prohibited” is an achievement.

Steven Crowder, a popular conservative YouTuber, was banned from running ads on his channel in 2019 after a series of taunts homophobic attacks on another personality. He immediately used it as a fundraising tactic, selling similarly obnoxious t-shirts. A year later he had gained over a million new subscribers and hosted other controversial extremist conservatives such as Donald Trump Jr. and Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene also reversed her permanent suspension from Twitter in January for spreading COVID-19 disinformation in fundraisers and asking for “emergency donations” to “fight big tech censorship” and the “Silicon Valley cartel.”

Greene being hugged right-wing conspiracy theoriesquickly became one of the largest fundraisers for Republicans, previously raising more than $11 million the midterms of 2022. they also keep posting on Telegraman alternative social network popular among extremists.

victory, then defeat

While some online personalities have managed to turn outrage into greater fame and fortune, it doesn’t always stay that way. Conspirator Alex Jones saw his InfoWars media empire’s revenues soar after Apple, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and others threw him off their platforms in 2018. They acted after Jones spent years spreading harassing lies about perceived enemies, including his years of persistence in the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre that killed 26 people, most of whom were children was faked.

However, his success took a hit that year after juries in Texas and Connecticut ordered Jones to pay nearly $1 billion to the victims’ families following a series of libel trials. (Understood, he urged his followers to fund his call.)

Alex Jones gestures with his hands on his broadcast desk.

Alex Jones turned his conspiratorial niche publication into a gold mine for himself and a powder keg for others.

Screenshot by Joan E. Solsman/CNET

As for Greitens, the Missouri Republican Senate hopeful walked away from a poll of his opponents when he posted his video in June this year and lost his prime bid in August.

Since then, he has only posted twice on Twitter. Both times he claimed political opponents and his ex-wife lied about him, ignoring the criticism he received from his own party. Greitens eventually received less than 19% of the votes cast and placed third in the primary. His 124,155 votes were less than half of the winner.

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