Images depicting baby animals, in particular kittens, are now among the most shared on social media, so much so that coming face to face with their sweet eyes on a daily basis appears to be an unavoidable fate. Therefore, yet another Facebook page dedicated to those with a passion for cats may not seem like a major innovation.
But what happened in Italy recently is a little different. A group called Progetto Kitten launched a virtual flashmob aimed at Matteo Salvini, who leads the Northern League, a party known for its xenophobic and anti-European stance. Instead of dancing, Progetto Kitten asked the participants—all 26,000 of them—to flood Salvini's Facebook page with pictures of cats and kittens
The organisers 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.”
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 organisers anticipated, and it soon spread from Facebook to Twitter.
— Agenzia ANSA (@Agenzia_Ansa) Mayo 7, 2015
Facebook page of Salvini invaded by photos of kittens. And on Twitter #gattinisusalvini spreads
— Fr4vl (@Fra_vl) Mayo 7, 2015
today 3pm #gattinisusalvini, @Jacopo_llo and I have our keyboards at the ready [PH CC: CiccioGatti e Socialismo]
#gattinisusalvini è forse una delle più brillanti opere d'arte del nuovo millennio.
— Francesco Quaranta (@fnc40) Mayo 7, 2015
#gattinisusalvini is perhaps one of the best works of art of the new millennium.
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.
But there were also many people who weren't fans of the effort. Critics noted, for example, that the use of kittens reflects the participants’ 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 humour.
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 soften the tone of the quarrelsome Italian political scene, it hasn't succeeded. At least the kittens, even when they are unfortunately driving a bulldozer or dressed as political activists, are still very cute.