top of page

This Woman Became An Internet Meme Because of Sexism And Racism

I’m finding it hard to not write this blog post in the style of a pissed off reddit comment. Allow me to introduce you to Michela Persico, an accomplished Italian journalist and mother, whose story intertwines with that of Italian footballer Daniele Rugani. Not just as his partner, but as a victim of image misuse that transcends national boundaries and raises critical questions about respect and privacy in the age of viral content. This meme was made out of images from her social media that not only distorts their personal lives but also perpetuates damaging stereotypes:

This baseless portrayal not only misrepresents their relationship but also insidiously feeds into broader, harmful narratives of racial and gender bias, showcasing a gross side of (largely American) internet culture.

According to what I could find online, Persico and Rugani have been in a committed relationship since 2015 but do not appear to be married. In September 2020, their family grew with the birth of their son, a happy event celebrated and shared on their verified social media accounts.

Contrary to the meme's insinuation their child is very clearly the same white skin tone as his parents. This is relevant because in 2018, Persico and Rugani visited Zanzibar, where they immersed themselves in the local culture, gaining valuable perspectives and enriching their understanding of the diverse ways of life on the island. It was during this trip that Persico took a photo with a local group of black men and a black child, beautiful moments captured in innocence and shared on her public Instagram. These images, depicting what looked like such a fun time and like they made great connections with the people they met, was later ripped from its context and misused. 

The original meme falsely portrayed this trip as a 'honeymoon' surrounded by a misleading narrative. It fabricated a story of infidelity and racial undertones, suggesting that Persico had a child with someone else, a claim easily refuted by the actual timeline and content of their public posts. Almost six years later, the reality remains publicly available on her instagram, yet the meme is still being actively shared around the United States today and I’m not sure if she even knows about it since her name isn’t on the meme. 

Persico, Rugani, and their son, clearly not the child depicted in the meme, continue to live their lives, all while this repugnant internet meme that distorts and misuses their personal moments for harmful purposes on the other side of the world.

The distortion of Persico and Rugani's narrative highlights a fucked up trend with what I’d refer to as a US-centric digital bubble, where a lack of global awareness often leads to the casual spread of misinformation. Most of the time I am critical of this phenomenon on more of a societal scale so it makes me really sad to see it personally affect individuals like this. This narrow-minded online environment not only magnifies stereotypes about non-Americans but also makes people forget about the realities and reputations of individuals in different parts of the world. It’s dehumanizing how their personal stories get twisted into wild, harmful rumors just for the sake of a sensational story or a cheap laugh online.

The meme's spread shows a big problem within segments of online culture: a narcissistic lack of concern for the real-world impact of digital content, especially when it involves individuals less known in the United States. Internet memes and digital content have a global reach so they carry a huge impact that crosses borders, making it obvious we need to remember our ethical responsibility in both their creation and sharing. Content creators and consumers should work on empathetically considering the impact of what we share, trying to understand and respect the real stories and lives behind every image and narrative that crosses our screens. I think we should all use this as an opportunity to remember that people are far more than just subjects of internet content; we have hearts and souls, and are deserving of understanding and respect, not just in our immediate communities but in the vast and diverse expanse of our global home.

I made the following graphic for this before issue before I decided to make my blog, and it was over the course of many conversations about this that finally convinced me that I should be using the effort I was doing on stuff like this into an actual organized thing. I am going to leave the original image up as not only a relic to how I got my start but also in case you'd like to share a sort of 'infographic' to help easily combat the misinformation when you see someone sharing the meme.


bottom of page