In July 2018, various websites reported that the social media hashtag #WalkAway represented a mass movement of people leaving (i.e., “walking away” from) the Democratic party. The #WalkAway movement was characterized as an answer to the “blue wave,” a belief shared by liberals that Democrats were poised to make major electoral gains in November 2018 midterm elections.
The campaign was launched by New York resident Brandon Straka, who in mid-June 2018 created a video replete with dramatic theme music in which he presented himself as a former liberal who was “walking away” because liberal politics no longer embodied his values of “unity, personal empowerment and love.” The video was widely shared on social media, but as Abby Ohlheiser, who pens a blog about the Internet for the Washington Post noted, that following took place “almost exclusively on the right-wing Internet.”
In late July 2018 however, the #WalkAway campaign was criticized for sharing memes utilizing photographs of liberals who were purportedly personally testifying to “walking away” from the Democratic Party, but those memes actually employed commercial images of anonymous people provided by the stock photography site Shutterstock:
Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, shared images of black people who had allegedly left the Democratic Party.
They were actually models in royalty-free stock photos. pic.twitter.com/FjfpZzv8mN
— Mark Joseph Stern (@mjs_DC) July 23, 2018
Straka took to Twitter to say the memes were not authentic #WalkAway campaign material:
These memes have nothing 2do w/ the #WalkAway Campaign. They’re being circulated by the left as evidence that #WalkAway is paid actors. 🙄🙄🙄
So, in a rare moment of agreement, I am on the same page as those on the left- this is fake. These r not from the #WalkAway Campaign. pic.twitter.com/nN3kNlBAsr
— Brandon Straka (The Unsilent Minority) (@usminority) July 24, 2018
In an email, Straka told us he didn’t know who created the memes, but that any official material from the #WalkAway campaign would bear specific branding:
I don’t know who created the memes. I first saw them within the last week. Anything officially released by the #WalkAway Campaign will bear our “branding” and trademark. Many people are excited and energized about #WalkAway, and in this excitement have created their own materials which are not approved or condoned by the official #WalkAway Campaign.
#WalkAway will exist beyond social media but currently does not. It is an LLC, and will exist soon as a non-profit, but currently we are building toward this.
It’s unclear who created the memes, or whether they were shared by people who consider themselves associated with the #WalkAway hashtag movement. But verifying what materials and persons might have any “official” connection with the movement is difficult since the campaign exists mostly on social media, with Straka self-identifying in his social media profile as “campaign founder” and in a group hosted by him on Facebook.
#WalkAway memes employing stock photographic images have been shared by at least one prominent conservative figure — Ginni Thomas, an attorney who contributes to the conservative Daily Caller website and is married to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas:
Noting that live Twitter tracking tool Hamilton68 (operated by the Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund) had recorded Russian bots and trolls helping to amplify the #WalkAway hashtag, some critics blamed Twitter for failing to quell the spread of Russian propaganda:
Walk Away is a scam created by Russian bots. In reality, I have never met a liberal who says, “You know what, I’ve decided I hate people and their basic human rights. I think I’ll become a Republican.” https://t.co/lb2VCeOVcm
— James Kosur (@JamesKosur) July 5, 2018
- This article was updated to include comment from Straka.
Ohlheiser, Abby. “The #WalkAway Meme Is What Happens When Everything Is Viral and Nothing Matters.”
The Washington Post. 2 July 2018.
Kapur, Sahil. “Special House Election in Ohio Poses Latest Test of ‘Blue Wave.’”
Bloomberg. 23 July 2018.
Kosur, James. “Fake #WalkAway Ads Feature Images of People from Shutterstock.”
HillReporter.com. 23 July 2018.