Last week, controversy erupted after an advertisement for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign was revealed as fake. The ad—an image showing a smiling Biden, along with the phrase “HIS BRAIN? NO. HIS HEART” and a digital flare on his chest—has been removed from Twitter, where it first went viral after garnering thousands of retweets. Many have since considered the picture another instance of fake news—but it also may have been an artwork, too.
In an Instagram video posted on Sunday that has since been viewed more than 50,000 times, Brad Troemel, an artist known for producing political memes as artworks, claimed to have created the Biden ad to parody the way the campaign had sold the former vice president’s image to voters. “The ad is real, not in the sense that it was officially released by the Biden campaign,” Troemel says in the video, “but in the sense that this is truly their message to you—that Joe Biden is a mentally and morally defunct candidate whose folksy and centrist charm will lead him to victory.”
Both the Associated Press and the Verge previously reported that Biden’s campaign confirmed the advertisement to be fake. A user who operates under the handle @khakijorts posted the tweet that went viral; that tweet and others containing the image have been deleted from Twitter on the grounds that it violates the site’s rules about furthering the spread of fake news content.
As with most viral content, it is difficult to track down who first produced the fake Biden ad. In his video, Troemel claims that the source code on a Instagram post by him from April 21 confirms that he was the first to post the image. Inspecting the source code reveals that the ad was posted to Instagram at 3:09 p.m. EST, but it cannot be confirmed whether Troemel’s Instagram predates the @khakijorts tweet, since the latter post has been removed.
A representative for Biden declined to comment as to whether the campaign was aware that an artist may have created the work, only saying, “To be clear, it was members of the Trump campaign tweeting it out not ours.”
Troemel did not immediately respond to multiple requests for comment. Having become famous for a Tumblr known as the Jogging—which is now considered one of the most famous “post-internet” artworks—Troemel is well-known for his works focused on how information and objects are consumed online. His Instagram, which now has more than 90,000 followers, has become one of his primary outlets in recent years, offering up ironic memes as artworks as part of a “practice of creating weapons-grade liberal cringe for social media,” as he put it in the video posted on Sunday. Recent ones have depicted Hillary Clinton as a Christ figure and mocked the outrage over the term “Karen.”
Some have criticized Troemel’s work for unethically relying on the same tactics used to disseminate fake news. In a New Yorker profile from 2017, Adrian Chen wrote, “While Troemel’s work can embody the freewheeling creativity that is the best part of Internet culture, it often falls into the trap of the troll who mistakes a lack of accountability for freedom, provoking with obnoxious antics simply for the sake of generating a reaction, then laughing in your face when you fall for the joke.”