What do we do when student unions collapse? Turn to the meme page
Filling a need
When I look up “SFUO” in the search bar on Facebook, the first result that comes up is Beloved SFUO Overlords, self-proclaimed “Religious Organization” and popular meme page. This is no surprise, given the fact that the page has 1,700 likes, almost 2,000 followers, and gets more student engagement than the actual Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO)’s Facebook page.
And why wouldn’t it? Memes have become a popular staple in this generation’s coping mechanisms, getting us through the death of Vine, and the increasingly Nazi-filled Twitterverse; it only makes sense that we would resort to memes to deal with the fallout of our student union.
Beloved SFUO Overlords has been around for much longer than that however, holding the SFUO accountable in ways that the Fulcrum simply cannot.
On Oct. 30 2018, the Fulcrum sat down with the page’s admin, a third-year social science student at the U of O, in an effort to understand the page’s success. The Fulcrum has agreed not to publish his name, so we’ll leave it at Page Runner for this article.
“I tell acquaintances, let alone friends (my identity)—the only reason why I don’t do it in a public way is because the success of the page isn’t due to me, it’s due to the hundreds of people who send in stuff, it’s due to everybody’s good ideas,” he explained. “I just facilitate it … It’s more of a platform than anything.”
Since its inception in February of this year, Beloved SFUO Overlords has consistently provided U of O students with much-needed political humour in the face of various SFUO scandals.
“It came to be the night of the most recent SFUO election,” the Page Runner explained. “There is no way that I know of within my power to prove any wrongdoing, but when you see good friends from all across the political spectrum uniting together on the Solutions slate, (and) not knowing anybody in their real right mind who supports the other slate … yet seeing them win catastrophically, and just continue the same ideas … I was a little upset.”
“I don’t know if angry is too grandiose a word, but it was disillusionment that got that going,” he said.
What’s in a meme?
According to the Page Runner, memes were the best medium to tackle this disappointment.
“The SFUO is a unique organization because they are both malevolent and incompetent,” he shared.
“There have been many examples that have been “resistance” to the SFUO, that have either (not) been any good, or that took themselves way too seriously, or had questionable elements themselves. You can go around and find myriad Facebook groups that say ‘students arts, SFUO resistance,’ or things like that—and I know lots of people who have spent hours, and hours, and hours … (doing) this kind of thing, who have simply not gotten anywhere.”
“To be absolutely frank—simple, slightly juvenile messaging is often the way to go, because lots of this is funny, lots of it is incompetent, and there’s no end of material to pick from.”
Plus, the Beloved SFUO Overlords platform has also provided a unique platform for shaping political discourse.
“It took those jokes that were made in backrooms and it simply provided a platform for it. It is providing a need … students are able to use it to call out bizarre behaviour of their executives,” explained the Page Runner.
Cyber bullying and white supremacy?
While the memes that the Page Runner posts tend to have hundreds of likes and reactions, not all responses to the political commentary have been positive.
SFUO executives have accused the hundreds of students actively liking, posting, and commenting on the Facebook page of cyberbullying, and engaging in white supremacist activities. Former vice-president operations, Axel Gaga, who was named in fraud allegations outlined in a police report, went so far as to claim bullying was part of the reason for his recent resignation, and recused SFUO president Rizki Rachiq warned all those who participate in the page that they are being put on a list and that campus security has been alerted.
“I really want to thank Rizki for that publicity because nothing gets people more interested in the thing than if it’s claimed to be banned,” the Page Runner laughed.
According to him, certain executives have taken to both privately messaging the Page Runner, and also engaged in arguments in the comments section of Beloved SFUO Overlords, none of which he has deleted. He “wonders if the SFUO could say the same.”
“There’s little hints you can get as to the absolute and utter chaos that is happening within the SFUO right now. For example, one executive resigned after another after another. When one did … (the description under) her picture (on the SFUO website) briefly read ‘bullied too hard.’ That was quickly removed. You have good people going in there, getting harassed or disillusioned, and leaving. You have people who talk the talk but do not walk the walk.”
In response to the cyberbullying claims, the Page Runner defended his page.
“These are elected paid officials, or they are officials who have lost their elections, but continue to be paid in a different capacity. They are fair game,” he said.
But he agrees that the types of bullying mentioned in Gaga’s resignation letter—prank calls to his phone, and mentions that he fears for his life and that of his family—are inherently wrong.
“That is an abhorrent practice, but (Beloved SFUO Overlords) is a page making fun of activities that are viewed as highly immoral, dangerous, and in some cases illegal, by elected officials. That is kind of the point.”
“I will note that in a recent Question and Answer period (on Facebook), (Leila Moumouni-Tchouassi, coordinator of the Racialized and Indigenous Students Experience centre) changed her tune and said that the SFUO Overlords page is beneficial for the student body at large,” the Page Runner mentioned.
The other accusation by the executives that has been charged against the Facebook page—that it is racist for satirizing the SFUO—is a claim that the Pager Runner takes seriously, but vehemently denies.
“The common response from execs, is that you are targeting a black woman. I suppose, technically, that’s true—but, I would simply say that no, I don’t believe that that’s the case,” said the Page Runner. “I would say that everything has been very much above board, and that race has nothing to do with (the page).”
In fact, the moderator of the Facebook page claimed that if there were charges of racism, that they should be laid against the SFUO. While he doesn’t believe them to be a racist organization at its core, he said he believes they did have questionable practices “in terms of withholding fundings from clubs because … of the religion and race that (a) club professes.”
What’s ahead for the Beloved SFUO Overlords?
Even though the SFUO is facing the impending termination of its contract with the U of O, the Page Runner believes that the Beloved SFUO Overlords will continue to play an important role in student politics.
“There’s also a future … to advocate for how that election is done,” he said. “At a certain point, students are going to have to vote SFUO or not. There’s still a danger of the SFUO winning that election—and I don’t think that people realize that.”
“(The election) will, presumably, be administered by the university, which is a huge positive, but, … if we don’t initiate spending caps in that election, (the Canadian Federation of Students) is going to come in here, like they did at Carleton, … and that narrative could really be turned against the UOSU (University of Ottawa Students’ Union),” asserted the Page Runner. “There’s a danger in that, and I think that my page has a part to play in that advocacy.”
Indeed, even if the UOSU, or any other union, replaces the SFUO, the Page Runner is confident that the commentary will continue to hold executives to account.
“If UOSU gets in, and they fall prey to some of these really big temptations of student politics—getting (its) own out of campus politics involved, the (misuse of) money, the activism, … (the page) will do the same thing for the UOSU,” he warned.
So, for the foreseeable future, the moderator of the Beloved SFUO Overlords page believes that memes will continue to cover the controversy, engage students, and make light of the hardships ahead for student politics.
“Anybody who has been involved in the campus political scene—at all, in any respect—as I was in a low level capacity, instantly gets depressed, the more they think about it. If you like this university, there’s nothing good. If people can laugh at it, that’s a little bit better.”