The meme, one of the Internet’s greatest blessings, is now the Federal Student Aid office’s curse.
The Twitter account for FAFSA, the Education Department’s federal financial aid application system used by nearly every college student in the country, sent out a tweet Tuesday night that included a popular meme taken from the hit comedy “Bridesmaids.”
“If this is you, then you’d better fill out your FAFSA: fafsa.gov,” read the tweet, accompanied by the image of actress Kristen Wiig and the caption “Help me. I’m poor.”
— Mikki Kendall (@Karnythia) June 25, 2014
The meme was taken from this popular clip of the film, which might evoke a chuckle from anyone familiar with the movie:
But in the context of poverty and access to higher education, the tweet fell flat and the backlash came swiftly.
— sfpelosi (@sfpelosi) June 25, 2014
Beyond violating the most basic “though shalt not make fun of poverty in America” tenet, the tweet also fed into one of the more damaging misconceptions about FAFSA: that it is only a resource for low-income students.
FAFSA, of course, is a resource to nearly every student — and most colleges require filling out FAFSA as a qualification not just for federal financial aid, but also for school-specific grants or scholarships.
At the recommendation of President Obama’s “Middle Class Task Force,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan simplified the FAFSA form, which was at one point an unnecessarily onerous deterrent to students applying for financial aid.
FAFSA deleted its “Help me. I’m poor” tweet not long after sending it and issued an apology on Twitter: “We apologize for the insensitivity of our previous tweet. Our goal is to make college a reality for all. We’re very sorry.”
You can see how sorry FAFSA is here:
We apologize for the insensitivity of our previous tweet. Our goal is to make college a reality for all. We’re very sorry. — Federal Student Aid (@FAFSA) June 25, 2014
Of course, as more organizations and institutions try to recruit social media-savvy employees, these types of public relations disasters will probably become more common — if only because memes and tact don’t always mix.