Pro-Trump meme-maker Carpe Donktum, a.k.a. Logan Cook, was suspended from Twitter on Monday following controversy over a video originating from a contributor to his website, Meme World. Following outcry from the right, however, Cook was quickly reinstated on the platform, prompting questions about censorship and Twitter’s response to allegations of political bias.
Cook, who describes himself on Twitter as an “Eternally Sarcastic Memesmith specializing in the creation of memes to support President Donald J. Trump,” is the creator of MemeWorld, a pro-Trump meme site. MemeWorld became engulfed in controversy on Monday following a New York Times report that a violent July 2018 video created by MemeWorld contributor TheGeekzTeam was screened at the right-wing American Priority Conference last week. The video, which is essentially a compilation of pro-Trump memes, features an edited version of a clip from the movie The Kingsman, which shows President Trump’s face superimposed onto that of actor Colin Firth as he guns down a crowd full of his critics, primarily members of the media. It was posted on the subreddit r/TheDonald last year and received thousands of upvotes.
In a statement to the New York Times, Stephanie Grisham, the press secretary for the White House, said that while President Trump had not seen the clip, “based upon everything he has heard, he strongly condemns this video.” Yet many interpreted the clip as a casual endorsement on behalf of Trump supporters towards violence against the president’s critics. Critics of the clip also accused Trump supporters of hypocrisy in light of their condemnation of a similarly violent image of comedian Kathy Griffin holding what appeared to be a fake version of the president’s decapitated head. (Griffin is also depicted in the video being mutilated with an axe.)
Initially, it was reported that Cook, who has been lauded as a “genius” by the president and visited the White House as part of a “social media summit” last July, was the creator of the video. While Cook denied this on Twitter, he confirmed that a “friend” who contributed to MemeWorld made the clip, and that that person would continue to be listed as a contributor. He also went on to endorse the message behind the video. “The Kingsman video is CLEARLY satirical and the violence depicted is metaphoric,” Cook said in a statement on MemeWorld that he posted on Twitter, accusing the New York Times of launching an “outrage campaign” against him. “No reasonable person would believe that this video was a call to action, or an endorsement of violence towards the media. The only person that could potentially be ‘incited’ by this video is Donald Trump himself, as the main character of the video is him. THERE IS NO CALL TO ACTION.”
The defense that violent content is sarcastic or intended in jest is common among right-wing memers, says Jennifer Grygiel, an assistant professor of communication at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. “This is a propaganda technique to avoid detection and removal,” they tell Rolling Stone. “The bottom line is no, maybe they aren’t calling specifically for the president to go out and shoot the media, but these political memes have an indirect effect on our culture, and the political climate, which is already boiling over. In this case, the meme promotes attacks on the media, social movements such as Black Lives Matter, and Trump’s political opponents.”
Shortly after Cook posted his statement, multiple news outlets reported that he had been suspended by Twitter. (The Twitter account for TheGeekzTeam, which posted the video, remains active.) News of the suspension prompted outrage on far-right corners of social media, who argued that Twitter was applying left-wing bias in suspending Cook. Right-wing critics have long accused Twitter of harboring a bias against conservatives, with many on the right arguing that big tech platforms censor or shadow-ban those who espouse conservative views (though there is little evidence to support this claim). Earlier this year, Republican U.S. Senator Josh Hawley introduced legislation advocating for big tech platforms to undergo an audit investigating allegations of left-wing bias, while many on the left have also accused CEO Jack Dorsey and Twitter of bending over backwards to appease conservatives, in part by refusing to censor right-wing trending topics and hosting dinners with right-wing leaders.
Approximately half an hour later, Cook’s account was reinstated. In a Periscope, he said that Twitter had decided to suspend him based on an unrelated copyright violation in a Feb. 2018 video, and that the suspension had been reversed. In the Periscope, Cook questioned this reasoning, claiming that the video featured no copyright infringement with the exception of a five-second song clip at the end of the video. In response to Rolling Stone‘s request for comment, a Twitter spokesperson says that “per our copyright policy, we respond to valid copyright complaints sent to us by a copyright owner or their authorized representatives.”
Aside from Twitter, many big tech platforms like YouTube have been criticized for keeping the video online. Although YouTube, for instance, prohibits content that incites violence, the platform decided to age-gate the video and display a warning on the grounds that it contained “violence that is clearly fictional,” a spokesperson told CNN.
In a statement sent to Rolling Stone, the activist network CREDO Action decried platforms’ willingness to keep the video up. “Hate speech and violent threats must be taken seriously by YouTube, Google, Facebook, Twitter, and the other big tech companies that are letting these messages run rampant across their platforms,” said CREDO Action campaign manager Jelani Drew-Davi. “The #TrumpVideo needs to be taken down immediately, as it actively promotes violence against specific people and members of the media.”