Memes mocking elected officials aren’t new on social media, yet on Thursday one of New York Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo’s sexual harassment accusers may have taken it a bit further than expected. Former Cuomo aide Lindsey Boylan shared an image of the Star Wars character Jabba the Hutt holding Princess Leia and licking her.
Boylan, 36, has alleged that New York Gov. Cuomo, 63, subjected her to harassment that included kissing her on the lips after she left a meeting in 2018.
“Just the good old office welcome to women in the governor’s office of New York,” tweeted @LindseyBoylan.
Ana Liss, who has also accused Cuomo of sexual harassment, responded with her own meme on Twitter. In a reply to Boylan, Liss (@analiss) posted, “TFW he’s approaching your desk,” a reference to the stomping of a dinosaur from the film Jurassic Park.
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The pair followed-up with a variety of other memes and comments, and many joined in with similar memes. By Friday afternoon the original tweet had more than 1,500 likes and had been retweeted 270 times, and quoted nearly 20 times.
However, a few felt it was an inappropriate response to a very serious issue. One user, @leelo2u, responded, “Pfft. Childish. Grow up.”
That follow-up was met with its own wave of responses, including those who questioned whether Boylan or Liss should have to “accept abusive behavior,” but there is the issue of whether it is appropriate for the pair to make light of what are rather serious allegations while the investigation is still ongoing.
“Social media is a highly driven pop culture window to the world,” explained technology futurist and brand strategist Scott Steinberg.
“We’re use to seeing memes and goofy photos as a response to the issues of the day,” he added. “However, it may not be most appropriate when someone is accusing someone else of something so serious, but we’ve seen that social media has had an ‘Animal House’ mentality in tackling social issues.”
Is this par for the course for social media?
“Fortunate or not, trivializing serious issues is one of social media’s highest skills,” said technology analyst Charles King of Pundi-IT.
“But I’m not sure that was what Boylan was going for in this case,” King added. “To my mind, equating Governor Coumo’s reported treatment of women with Jabba’s beastial slavering over Princess Leia seems more in the class of satire – inserting humor into a grave situation with a sharpened blade. I doubt Cuomo was pleased by the crass comparison. Then again, thin skinned politicians tend to demand respect even when they’ve done little to deserve it.”
The issue is whether Boylan and Liss could lose any creditability via their tweets. It may seem harmless now, but as many have learned: what you post today – or even posted years ago – can come back to haunt you.
“A lot of people also don’t realize that anything, including comments made on social media, can be fair game in the court room,” said Steinberg. “What is also important to realize is we have the words, but we don’t have the facial expressions or tone that give any post context. That can be problematic for both sides in the courthouse.”
It is likely that investigators as well as any future prosecutor would rather such posts never be made.
“Lawyers may like it if it serves a purpose,” said Steinberg, who has served as an expert witness in court. “However, the short answer is anything you post can be used against you. And prosecutors are likely never thrilled about this type of commentary in an unregulated forum.”
However, these posts could serve another purpose – namely to publicly shame and mock Gov. Cuomo.
“It may not be the most mature, or most respectful way to address a serious allegation,” added Steinberg. “But social media is nothing if not the court of public opinion and comparing Cuomo to Jabba the Hutt will get people talking.”