‘This you?’: the seven letters exposing rightwing hypocrisy on student debt relief

<span>Photograph: Seth Wenig/AP</span>
Photograph: Seth Wenig/AP
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Conservatives are frothing at the mouth over Joe Biden’s decision to forgive $10,000 in student debt for millions, railing against what they call “student loan socialism”. But their carefully crafted tweets have been undermined over and over again with two words: “This you?”

Were there ever seven letters more powerful? On Twitter, the phrase is an instant marker of hypocrisy, cutting down the mighty from politicians to celebrities to brands. It typically comes as a reply to an opinionated tweet, accompanied by a screenshot of an earlier remark from the same person endorsing the opposite point of view.

Now Biden’s debt cancellation has given the phrase new life: “This you?” is rolling through Twitter like a bowling ball, toppling critic after critic as it nullifies their claims. The source of many of the “receipts”, in this case, is the public record of those who had their Payment Protection Plan (PPP) loans – the federal funds intended to keep businesses afloat early in the pandemic – forgiven.

The conservative advocacy group PragerU proclaimed: “It’s not complicated. Bailing out irresponsible behavior will spur more irresponsible behavior.” “This you”? asked @kaoticleftist, showing hundreds of thousands of dollars in forgiven PPP funds.

The rightwing Daily Caller published a piece headlined: “Biden debt forgiveness could send tuition through the roof”, prompting another Twitter user, @coreyastewart, to post a screenshot of the PPP funds that organization reportedly had forgiven.

“Student loan forgiveness sounds really nice to illegal immigrants, people with no life experience, people who don’t have families yet, and people who use preferred pronouns,” wrote the conservative commentator Steven Crowder, earning a host of “This you?” replies – with screenshots highlighting more than $71,000 in loan forgiveness for his company.

Those closer to the seats of power also received helpful feedback. The Iowa senator Chuck Grassley also criticized Biden’s plan, saying it would “fuel further inflation hurting those who can least afford it UNFAIR.” “This you?” asked a candidate for local office, pointing to Grassley’s application for a federal farm bailout.

Users also accused the rightwing pundit Ben Shapiro of a double standard, but he denied having received any PPP money and said he’d issued cease-and-desist letters to organizations claiming otherwise – pointing to the messy nature of internet sleuthing. But it wasn’t just everyday Twitter users calling out hypocrisy.

On Thursday evening, the White House entered the fray. The Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene said it was “completely unfair” for the government to “say your debt is completely forgiven” – after her loan of more than $180,000 was forgiven, the official White House account noted. It was just one of a series of digs at critics: the Florida congressman Matt Gaetz, the White House said, had more than $482,000 in PPP loans forgiven, while the Pennsylvania congressman Mike Kelly got off the hook for more than $987,000.

It’s not the first time the meme has been widely deployed to illustrate double standards on a national scale. As brands and celebrities touted their support for the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, social media quickly exposed many as simply trend followers, juxtaposing their posts with examples of past offensive behavior – marking what Aisha Harris described in the New York Times as “a swift undercutting of performative wokeness”. Users drew attention to an NFL star posting a symbolic black square after hanging out with Donald Trump; the Baltimore police department’s supportive words years after the death of Freddie Gray; and a host of other apparent changes of heart.

As Harris wrote, there’s power in such a sharable medium. It’s true that, as the Twitter user @trayne_wreck – who collected countless examples of loan-based double standards – writes, highlighting hypocrisy is unlikely to change the minds of those who are called out.

But, she says, it could make a difference to those of us reading: “You, who can do something about it, who can build power to make them obsolete. I hope it will resonate with you.”