Images depicting baby animals, in particular kittens, are among the most shared on social media, so much so that coming face to face with their sweet eyes appears to be unavoidable.
Italians have leveraged that love for a political twist. A group called Progetto Kitten launched a virtual flashmob aimed at Matteo Salvini, who holds Donald Trump-like stands on immigration. Salvini's Northern League is known for its xenophobic and anti-European stance. Instead of the usual flashmob dancing, Progetto Kitten asked the participants — all 26,000 of them — to flood Salvini's Facebook page with pictures of cats and kittens
The organizers say that they are not political, but simply want to “bring adorable kitten-messengers of love to the walls of those who take life too seriously.” Um, meow.
In the words of the campaign's creator, Salvini was chosen solely on the basis of the sound of his name, as it rhymes with gattini, the Italian word for kittens. Hence, the hashtag and the name under which the campaign spread: #gattinisusalvini (kittens on Salvini).
Despite the non-political objectives of #gattinisusalvini, many of the participants included criticism of the politician's stances and rhetoric alongside their feline photos:
The initiative was more successful than the organizers anticipated, and it soon spread from Facebook to Twitter.
Some welcomed the success of the initiative, which, according to Wired, is the correct response to a brand of politics that is ever less convincing and filled with slogans. The cuteness of the kittens contrasts with the hatred dispensed by politicians, while laughter contrasts with the speeches against foreigners and minority groups.
However, critics said the meow brigade represented a lack of solid arguments against the leader of the Northern League. Many also pointed out that the campaign aided Salvini, increasing his popularity, rather than causing him to soften his tone.
In fact, although the first reaction of the leader of the Northern League was to block the most active users in the spread of cats, seeing it as a “spring cleaning” of his Facebook page, he later ended a post with a “meow”, gaining approval for his self-deprecating humor.
His supporters created a new hashtag, #gattiniconsalvini (kittens with Salvini), spreading images of Salvini surrounded by the omnipresent cats.
An image of a cat riding a bulldozer refers to how Salvini intends to raze Romani camps in the country.
If the aim of the initiative was to declaw Italy's quarrelsome political scene, maybe it should be, to paraphrase Donald Trump, fired.
At least the kittens are cute.