Donald Trump’s Twitter army has been highly successful at hijacking hashtags and picking meme fights with the left. But liberals may be getting better at recognizing their own opportunities to get in viral jabs.
After a federal judge in Honolulu issued an injunction against Trump’s revised travel ban on Wednesday night, the hashtag #BoycottHawaii began to spread, at first among conservatives who were furious with the decision. By Thursday mid-afternoon, the hashtag was officially trending on a swell of more than 100,000 accounts.
But what started as an earnest call-to-action — to vote with your airline miles and choose Miami over Maui — quickly spun beyond conservatives’ control. With #BoycottHawaii, Trump critics saw an opening to flip the script and took it, turning a conservative screed into a liberal taunt.
The hashtag first popped up a week ago, when state attorney general Douglas Chin announced that Hawaii would challenge Trump’s amended ban.
“Hawaii is not getting my vacation money!! Dumb liberal state.. make America great!” a Florida man tweeted on March 7, seemingly the first to use the tag. Over the next week, a few dozen others wrote about canceling island excursions, including some minor celebrities of conservative Twitter. Some Trump supporters called explicitly for help getting the hashtag to take off.
They got their wish on Thursday morning. One of the sparks that made #BoycottHawaii catch seems to have been a conspiracy tweet by a Breitbart editor. Paul Joseph Watson noted that Obama made a “surprise visit” to Hawaii the day before the judge issued his injunction. His tweet, including the hashtag, was shared more than 4,800 times.
But then the tide began to turn.
Ted Lieu, Democratic representative from California, who joked that #BoycottMaryland must be close behind because of a subsequent injunction issued by a federal Baltimore judge. “Soon only place folks can go is Steve King’s district,” Lieu added to the tweet that would be shared another 4,400 times.
Travel ban opponents couldn’t have seeded a better solidarity tag themselves. In what once was a call to the #MAGA-minded, lefties now saw an absurdity just begging to be weaponized.
Within two hours of Watson’s tweet, the hashtag was hijacked entirely, with thousands of Trump critics lobbing predictable jokes about bigot-free beaches and rednecks not getting lei’d.
“I’m going to quit commuting through Hawaii on my way to my coal-mining job,” one critic joked.
“I can guarantee you half the people who want to #BoycottHawaii have never traveled further than their local WalMart,” sneered a popular account dedicated to impeaching Trump.
It was gleeful GOP-bashing that bumped #BoycottHawaii to the top of Twitter, not any strident calls to burn plane tickets. Few Hillary fans or Bernie bros could resist cackling at Trump supporters for being too broke to catch a ten-hour flight if they wanted.
Molly Washam, a digital strategist, saw the takeover as a sign that Trump’s critics are finally beginning to use his own methods against him, even the pettier ones.
“Conservatives are just willing to play a little bit dirtier and distract from the issues at hand,” she said, when asked about the rarity of liberal mud-slinging gaining such momentum. Her firm, Blue State Digital, advises progressive organizations on social media campaigns.
Washam said trends like #BoycottHawaii can be cathartic, but added, “Smart Democrats right now are not worrying about how they’re responding to conservatives’ meme du jour.”
Indeed, it was hardly the ecumenical vision that Democratic leadership has been preaching, but few viral campaigns are.
This was “the future liberals want” meme brawl — where liberals took a fear-mongering message about drag queens and veiled Muslim women taking the subway and flipped it into a positive message of inclusion — all over again. Trump critics seized a half-formed narrative and recast it to suit their own messaging.
With #BoycottHawaii, liberals were the online bullies for a change, and it worked.
By: Shawn Musgrave