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.

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.

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.)