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Why Elizabeth Warren's Feeds Are Flooded With Snake Emoji

Senator Elizabeth Warren’s social media feeds are crawling with snakes. If you scroll through the replies to every new tweet and the comments of her most recent Instagram posts, you won’t find much discussion about the actual content, whether its donations or the student loan debt crisis. Instead, it’s line after line of acid-green snake emoji, intermixed with people apologizing for the people inundating Warren’s accounts with snake emoji. Lest ye think that Senator Warren’s campaign for president has suddenly become much beloved by reptile enthusiasts, #NeverWarren is also trending, alongside #WarrenIsASnake.

The people slinging snake emoji are mostly supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign for president. (Or so they claim. This is still the internet, after all.) On Monday, CNN reported (and Warren confirmed) that, during a private meeting between the two in 2018 during which they discussed their presidential ambitions, Sanders stated that he did not think a woman could win the election. Sanders has denied making this comment, calling it “ludicrous” in a statement to CNN and “incomprehensible” when asked about the situation during last night’s Democratic debate. Warren again disagreed with Sanders’ account, but said she was “not here to fight with Bernie.”

Still, the atmosphere between the senators, who are friends, looked tense. As the debate came to an end, an image of the pair having a terse discussion (with Tom Steyer looming between them like a nonsequitur stork in a suit) has become a meme of its own. But it’s nowhere nearly as ubiquitous as the snakes.

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Warren is not the first woman to be visited with a social media plague of snake emoji in the midst of a controversy. Calling someone a snake is hardly a social media invention, but employing the snake emoji as a form of memetic harassment started with popstar Taylor Swift. In July 2016, people began spamming Swift’s accounts with snake emoji because they believed she was duplicitous—partially due to situations with ex-boyfriend Calvin Harris and Katy Perry, but mostly because of a longtime feud with Kanye West (and, by extension, Kim Kardashian West). After the release of West’s single “Famous,” Swift said that she was offended by the song’s lyrics, in which West both takes credit for Swift’s fame and says he thinks the pair might sleep together. In response, Kardashian West posted audio on Snapchat of Swift seeming to approve the lyrics prior to the track’s release. She also joined incensed fans in the snake emoji flood.

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There was one upside to the Taylor Swift snake-pit situation, though. Instagram had been building a filter that would automatically delete specific words (or emoji) from users’ feeds, and Swift’s account made a fitting first test case. The snakes evaporated. Kim Kardashian West later availed herself of the same filter to rid herself of snake emoji posted by angered Swifties. The feature can now be employed by any user, which could prove useful to Senator Warren, should she decide to employ it. “The AI we built to proactively filter out bullying or offensive terms doesn’t filter out the snake emoji, given the many different ways it can be used,” explains a spokesperson for Facebook, Instagram’s parent company. “Hypothetically, if Senator Warren were to add the snake emoji to her keywords, the emoji would be filtered from her comments.” (Warren could also mute the emoji on Twitter, but that’s not quite the same as scrubbing them entirely.)

No matter who is mistaken when it comes to what was said in the meeting between Sanders and Warren, snake emoji spamming is a symptom of larger social media sicknesses. Swift and Kardashian West are far from the only celebrities to get snaked: The trend has impacted everyone from singers to drag queens to politicians to athletes. If you consider other waves of animal emoji, the list just gets longer. Beyoncé fans are known to swarm the accounts of anyone critical of their queen with bee emoji. Other celebrities have faced bubonic plagues of rat emoji. Being a fan of something or someone shouldn’t mean flocking to harass their perceived enemies with endless insulting animal emoji.

Besides, the snake emoji is more than just stanning gone wrong. As even other Sanders supporters have noted, it’s a particularly bad look for Sanders’ supporters, who have been accused of bro-iness and online harassment in the past. (Remember #BernTheWitch? Yikes.) More importantly, it’s also evidence of sexism that has been slithering around Warren’s campaign from the start. Male celebrities and politicians are caught in alleged lies all the time. Seldom (OK, never) are they visited by serpent spammers. It’s worth noting that some of the people posting snakes might not be Sanders loyalists, some people like inducing chaos, others just do things for the lulz. But there’s something ugly, archaic—and, as writer Emily Crockett points out, biblical—about using a snake emoji of all symbols to discredit women as untrustworthy. After all this time, people are still trying to convince women it’s their fault they’ve been tossed from Eden.

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