Type of site
|Launched||September 21, 2020|
The Herman Cain Award is an ironic award given to people who expressed hesitancy toward COVID-19 vaccines or face masks, who later died from COVID-19 or its complications. The award is named after American businessman and political figure Herman Cain, a Republican politician who died of COVID-19 complications after attending a 2020 Trump Tulsa rally in support of then-President Donald Trump without wearing a face mask. A text label which says "Awarded" is emblazoned on the conversation thread containing evidence and community discussions of a third party's anti-COVID mitigation positions and their subsequent death.
The concept is associated with the subreddit r/HermanCainAward, where posts about people who have "made public declaration of their anti-mask, anti-vax, or Covid-hoax views" are marked as "nominated" if the person is hospitalized with COVID-19. If the person dies, the post is marked "awarded". The subreddit also flags users who show pictures of their COVID-19 vaccination cards as "Immunized to Prevent Award" (IPA).
The Cain Gang @THEHermanCain
It looks like the virus is not as deadly as the mainstream media first made it out to be.
30 August 2020
Cody Johnson @drmistercody
Replying to @THEHermanCain
Sir, the virus killed you. You died from it.
30 August 2020
Herman Cain, a prominent Republican businessman and former presidential candidate, publicly denied the severity of COVID-19 and spread COVID-19 misinformation during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic. In June 2020, he attended a Trump rally in Tulsa where many participants did not engage in social distancing or mask wearing. Cain tested positive for COVID nine days later and was hospitalized, before eventually dying of the disease on July 30. One month after his death, his Twitter account stated, in a since-deleted tweet, that "It looks like the virus is not as deadly as the mainstream media first made it out to be", which was met with considerable mockery online. Cain's name "became synonymous with the grandstanding hubris of the MAGA movement", given the apparent irony of Cain downplaying a disease that had killed him.
Origin of Award
According to Business Insider, the subreddit "was originally focused on people who were against wearing masks or didn't believe the deadly virus was dangerous" and that "Early posts created by founder and moderator FBAHobo were about politicians like Nashville Metro Council member Tony Tenpenny and Arkansas GOP county chair Steven Farmer, who both died from COVID complications." According to Le Monde, "In its early days, HCA was primarily fueled by articles found in the press", but that "in recent months, the examples have been drawn directly from a Facebook page of Covid-19 victims. Publication after publication, the pattern invariably repeats itself: one person (anonymized to respect Reddit rules) says all the bad things they think about vaccines, masks, or sometimes even doubts the existence of the pandemic. Often the memes (humorous diversions) used to illustrate mistrust of the vaccine are the same. The following screenshot tells us that the person has just fallen ill, and sometimes that the illness does not really give them a break. Calls to pray for help may follow, before a loved one finally announces the death."
On September 7, 2021, a member of r/HermanCainAward alleged that other members of the subreddit were doxing and harassing family members of recently deceased COVID-19 patients. Later that month, moderators of the subreddit put in place new rules requiring all posts to redact the full name and faces of all individuals included in any social media screencaps, unless the individual in question was a public figure.
Many award recipients are unnamed individuals whose likeness has been obscured. The community of reviewers comes to learn of the "awardee" through screenshots of their social media posts about COVID. Award recipients often post the same sorts of memes and statements. Common talking points among award winners are that Anthony Fauci is a villain, people who take COVID vaccines are like laboratory rats in an experiment, people who support political liberalism are like sheep, immigrants spread disease much more than citizens, and vaccine mandates are comparable to the Nazi treatment of the Jewish people in the Holocaust. These talking points are frequently illustrated with memes containing racist, homophobic, and transphobic ideas or imagery. Additionally, award winners may compare themselves to lions who are proud and free, or share tips on arguing with waiting staff at restaurants that require guests to wear masks.
According to the moderators, by October 2021, 2,393 people had been nominated for the award, 2,515 people had received the award, and 71 people had received IPAs.
Subscriptions to the subreddit grew from 2,000 on July 4, 2021, to 5,000 in early August, to more than 100,000 on September 1, to 243,000 on September 17, to 276,000 on September 21, to 339,000 on September 29, to more than 350,000 on October 7, to more than 375,000 on October 16, and to about 438,000 on December 23 to more than 504,000 on May 30 2022. By October 2021, r/HermanCainAward received nearly one million unique daily visitors.
WebMD has described the subreddit as turning "death notices from public announcements into a cudgel for public shaming of sorts." According to Gita Jackson of Vice, "Although the Herman Cain Award wasn't created to encourage people to get vaccinated, it's helping anti-vaxxers change their minds." According to Deccan Herald, the subreddit "has been at the centre of debates and discussions on ethics and morality, with many calling for Reddit to take it down" and that "The award is seen by many others as dehumanising anti-vaxxers/maskers as they too grieve the loss of their loved ones who died from not masking up or getting jabbed." Douglas Blair of The Daily Signal, an American conservative news website, opined that "Even for the unimaginably low standards of the radical left, the Herman Cain Award subreddit represents a new and deeply upsetting frontier in the ongoing partisan war between leftists and conservatives."
Lydia Dugdale, director of the Center for Clinical Medical Ethics at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, said that it is "not surprising that people would delight on the misfortune of others" but that "Delighting in the suffering of others lies contrary to everything medical ethics espouses and certainly it's cruel that regular people would do this." F. Diane Barth, a psychotherapist writing for NBC News, described the subreddit as "A dark and sardonic corner of the internet" that "captures the rage and outrage of presumably vaccinated, mask-wearing individuals, many of whom have either been infected with Covid-19 in the past or have watched friends and family become ill — and even die." Barth also described "This push to revel in schadenfreude, and to assign collective blame" as "understandable and more than a little expected, especially on the internet. But this so-called award also captures the collective loss of empathy that colors so many of our political and personal conversations right now. Like soldiers who have been trained to see their enemies as less than human, we have forgotten that those who disagree with us are, despite everything, still people."
In an interview with Business Insider, Rocky Moose, one of the subreddit's moderators, said that the subreddit was "an emotional outlet born out of frustration" and that "COVID misinformation kills. We're documenting a pandemic of the unvaccinated". On October 16, 2021, CNBC reported that the subreddit had convinced some readers to get vaccinated against COVID-19. CNBC also reported that r/HermanCainAward was the tenth fastest growing subreddit over the previous thirty days, according to FrontPageMetrics.com, a website that tracks usage of Reddit. When asked about the subreddit by The Washington Post, Herman Cain's daughter Melanie Cain Gallo responded in an email stating: "I had not heard about this, and it has no effect on our family because that group is insignificant and irrelevant."
The Independent compared r/HermanCainAward to the Darwin Awards. The subreddit has inspired a Twitter account of the same name. On September 27, 2021, a Reddit spokesperson told Business Insider in a statement that they were "closely reviewing the COVID-related communities on our platforms for violations of our policies, including r/HermanCainAward."
- Darwin Awards, a similar ironic award
- Loofbourow, Lili (September 21, 2021). "The Unbelievable Grimness of HermanCainAward, the Subreddit That Catalogs Anti-Vaxxer COVID Deaths". Slate. Archived from the original on September 21, 2021.
- West, Phil (September 8, 2021). "'He was so dumb': Redditors from HermanCainAward sub called out for 'doxing, harassing' families of deceased COVID patients". The Daily Dot. Archived from the original on September 8, 2021.
- "This Reddit forum has been mocking unvaccinated people who die of Covid-19". Deccan Herald. October 1, 2021. Archived from the original on October 1, 2021. Retrieved October 28, 2021.
- Rodriguez, Salvador (October 16, 2021). "Reddit channel posts stories of anti-vaxxers dying of Covid, scaring fence-sitters into getting the shot". CNBC. Archived from the original on January 18, 2022. Retrieved October 16, 2021.
- Asarch, Steven (September 28, 2021). "On Reddit, users are mocking unvaccinated people who've died of COVID-19. An ethicist says it's 'cruel' but 'not surprising.'". Business Insider. Retrieved September 29, 2021.
- Brandy, Grégor (October 14, 2021). "Sur Internet, la traque des personnes opposées au vaccin qui sont mortes du Covid-19". Le Monde (in French). Archived from the original on June 19, 2022. Retrieved November 7, 2021.
- Shabad, Rebecca (July 2, 2020). "Herman Cain, a Trump surrogate, tests positive for coronavirus after attending Tulsa rally". Archived from the original on April 29, 2022. Retrieved February 10, 2022.
- Voytko, Lisette (August 31, 2020). "Herman Cain Tweets Coronavirus Not That Deadly—Despite Having Died From It". Forbes. Archived from the original on April 29, 2022. Retrieved February 10, 2022.
- Andrews, Travis M. (August 31, 2020). "The curious saga of the deceased Herman Cain's living Twitter account". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on October 4, 2020. Retrieved February 10, 2022.
- Klar, Rebecca (August 31, 2020). "Herman Cain account tweets coronavirus 'not as deadly' as claimed after his death from COVID-19". The Hill. Archived from the original on October 4, 2021. Retrieved February 10, 2022.
- Sommerlad, Joe (September 29, 2021). "What is Reddit's Herman Cain Award?". The Independent. Archived from the original on February 1, 2022. Retrieved September 29, 2021.
- "reddit.com: Block out all names. Block out all profile pictures". reddit.com. September 27, 2021. Archived from the original on August 29, 2022. Retrieved August 29, 2022.
- Judkis, Maura (October 7, 2021). "What do all these stories of vaccine denial deaths do to our sense of empathy?". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Archived from the original on March 23, 2022. Retrieved November 4, 2021.
- McNamara, Damian; Davis, Kelly Wairimu (September 22, 2021). "Instead of 'Rest in Peace,' COVID Obits Become War of Words". WebMD. Archived from the original on April 29, 2022. Retrieved October 28, 2021.
- Jackson, Gita (September 22, 2021). "Redditors Give 'The Herman Cain Award' to Anti-Vaxxers Who Die of COVID". Vice. Archived from the original on September 25, 2021. Retrieved September 29, 2021.
- Blair, Douglas (October 15, 2021). "Leftists Celebrating Conservatives Who Die of COVID-19 Is a New Low". The Daily Signal. Archived from the original on March 15, 2023. Retrieved October 29, 2021.
- Barth, F. Diane (October 2, 2021). "Reddit's Herman Cain Covid 'award' is a depressing sign of our times". NBC News. Archived from the original on October 2, 2021. Retrieved October 3, 2021.