It’s been a few weeks since a woman named Juli Briskman was photographed flipping the bird to President Donald Trump’s motorcade. Have you forgotten about it yet? If you haven’t, you will soon, according to an Ohio State social media expert.
The photo of Briskman that blew up on Twitter and garnered the attention of the Washington Post and New York Times hit its popularity mark and will soon fall into the forgotten realm of Ken Bone’s red sweater, said Joseph Bayer, an assistant professor and social media researcher.
“As much as there’s an enjoyment part of it, it’s rare that it ends up being something that is truly long-lasting,” he said of Briskman’s newly found internet fame.
Briskman, a 1990 Ohio State graduate and former Lantern police editor, said the photo of her on her bicycle next to a fleet of black SUVs was unplanned; she went on a ride down her normal route and just so happened to pull up next to the presidential motorcade.
“I said in my head ‘Oh my gosh that’s right he’s playing golf today, again.’ And I just, all my frustration came up inside me and I flipped him off,” she said.
It wasn’t until the next morning that she got the notification from a friend, saying her photo was posted to a political forum. After a few comments and a few tags, Briskman commented back on the post.
“Down in the comments I wrote ‘Oh that’s me ha ha ha,’” she said, adding she had no idea how popular the photo — or she, herself — would become online.
“I thought that was the end of it, right? I’ve had my photograph in the paper before, not a big deal, right? It’s there that day and that’s it,” she said.
But, as evidenced by her 17,800-plus new Twitter followers, 1,000 Facebook friend requests and 800 LinkedIn connections awaiting approval, that was not the case.
I know that there’s been a lot of fingers flipped to [Trump], but for some reason mine was the right one at the right time and I’m happy to be the symbol of that. I’m happy to be the symbol of that. – Juli Briskman, a 1990 Ohio State graduate
Bayer said the publicity that followed the photo would not have happened without Twitter, a platform that allows citizens to have a direct connection to others, like public figures or, in Briskman’s case, a stranger.
“Twitter sets the agenda now,” Bayer said. “So these kinds of events which are often made viral through Twitter can shape the agenda from the ground up.”
Briskman was subject to two parallels of virality: the good and the bad, Bayer said.
On one side, she received compliments and acclaim for her willingness to stand up to the president. On the other, she lost her job at Akima, a government contracting firm for violating its social media code-of-conduct policy.
She also received threats, and had to take down where she attended yoga classes because the location’s Facebook page was being attacked.
The yoga studio owner asked her to remove any mention of the studio from her social pages, Briskman said, and she obliged.
Bayer said the people commenting, sleuthing and trolling Briskman have to be politically motivated because the situation is so politically charged.
“In some level it’s a counter-narrative to the idea that our vote doesn’t matter,” he said. “By having somebody who’s now shaping the narrative and shaping the discussion, we are showing that our voice can matter even if it’s not us, it’s somebody like us.”
He said so many people relate to Briskman, thus take the time to look her up, request her friendship online and repost articles having to do with her because of the candid nature behind the photo.
“The fact that it wasn’t her doing it in front of a camera, it was unbeknownst to her that she was being recorded, gave a little bit of a true authenticity to it,” he said. “It’s also the fact that it was done in the moment.”
Bayer said social media allows for narratives like Briskman’s to be brought to light, as well as shredded by those in opposition.
“These almost David-versus-Goliath media battles emerge and I think people like them because here’s this random person who just happened to be there is now battling the political figure [they] disagree with, and acting as arbitrator.”
And the battle continues through comment sections and social media feeds. For instance, @haroldFUrichard tweeted “How is it that #julibriskman is such a fatty after all that biking?” and @observator6857 tweeted “#JuliBriskman a typical left wing voter: sad, respectless and bad loser!!”
“The anonymity and distance plays into [the ridicule],” Bayer said. “It also contradicts how it’s easier to connect with people.”
Bayer said people are more likely to post negative comments about her online because they can hide behind a screen, but their motives could also simply be because they disagree with her actions.
He said Briskman’s photo also represents the polarized nature of political parties.
“I don’t see any outcome of this scenario that is bringing people together,” Bayer said. “It’s a case that can be used to further fire up your base which is a very common strategy in modern politics. In doing so, It narrows the gap of understanding between ‘us’ and ‘other people’.”
Regardless of the divisive nature of the photo and reactions, Briskman has garnered more than $100,000 from various GoFundMe donors in response to her getting fired for the photo.
“I am a DACA recipient myself. I appreciate your act of courage. Somebody like you can do that any time. Somebody like me could never do it since we are always at risk of deportation even for slight things,” a GoFundMe donor said on the crowdfunding site.
Briskman said she plans to further her presence online and give back some of the donation money to social campaigns she supports.
She has tweeted 100 times since the photo was found online Oct. 28 and has 319 tweets total.
“People who are comfortable with that attention and want to savor the moment are going to do that,” Bayer said. “There will also be people in that situation who will want to withdraw and try to avoid some of the harassment that will probably come.”
“I know that there’s been a lot of fingers flipped to [Trump], but for some reason mine was the right one at the right time and I’m happy to be the symbol of that,” Briskman said. “I’m happy to be the symbol of that,” she repeated.