Milkshake Duck is an Internet meme that describes phenomena that are initially perceived as positive, only to soon after be revealed as deeply flawed. Oxford Dictionaries defined the term as "a person or character on social media that appears to be endearing at first, but is found to have an unappealing back story", but did not consider usage of the neologism to be sufficiently long-lived or widespread to warrant inclusion in their dictionaries.
The meme is a reference to a Twitter post on June 12, 2016, by Ben Ward, an Australian cartoonist using the online handle "pixelatedboat". The Twitter joke describes a fictional Internet viral phenomenon of a duck that drinks milkshakes, subsequently discovered to be racist. Ward described the Twitter message as "a pretty good joke" summing up a recent trend where popularity that comes via the Internet can be quickly washed away by discovering something troubling in a person's past. When asked in 2017, Ward was unsure what actually inspired him to make the joke, but recalls it was partially influenced by the Chewbacca Mask Lady viral phenomenon.
The term was referenced on Gimlet Media's Reply All podcast both in episode #98, entitled "Fog of Covfefe", and subsequently in episode #110, "The Antifa Supersoldier Spectacular". In December 2017, Oxford Dictionaries announced that the phrase was a runner up as word of the year, losing out to "youthquake". In January 2018, Australia's Macquarie Dictionary named "milkshake duck" as its 2017 word of the year.
The phenomenon had some notable examples prior to June 2017, in particular with Ken Bone during the 2016 United States Presidential debate, who was initially given positive exposure, until a questionable Reddit history was revealed after his appearances. The demonstration of the independently-developed video game The Last Night was a highlight of Microsoft's press conference during the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2017 due to its stylish cyberpunk visuals. However, one of its creators, Tim Soret, had been found to have previously spoken in support of the Gamergate controversy in 2014, which led several to criticize his views a day later and tarnished the game's image. Soret apologized the next day and stated his views on Gamergate had since changed. The "milkshake duck" term was quickly applied to the game. Criticism over the game and the subsequent controversy over social media led to wider adoption of the term.
South African-born R&B singer Doja Cat was declared the Milkshake Duck of 2018. The burgeoning recording artist experienced a viral hit with her single "Mooo!," a novelty song with an absurdist lyrical theme in which she fantasizes about being a cow. It inspired several jokes and memes while the accompanying music video acquired over 34 million views since it was uploaded to YouTube on August 10. However, Doja Cat sparked controversy on social media when her Twitter account history revealed the usage of homophobic slurs. In a tweet dating back to 2015, Doja Cat used the word "faggot" to describe hip-hop artists Tyler, the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt, members of the musical collective Odd Future. Doja Cat initially defended her past homophobic remarks. She stated, "I called a couple people faggots when I was in high school in 2015 does this mean I don't deserve support? I’ve said faggot roughly like 15 thousand times in my life. Does saying faggot mean you hate gay people?." Her response was met by even more backlash, including a critical tweet from Will and Grace actress Debra Messing. In her statement, Messing expressed disappointment with Doja for defending past ignorance and implored her to use her fame and platform for good. Doja Cat has since issued an series of apologies for her derogatory words and deleted her tweets. The controversy generated much discourse in regards to the limits of "cancel culture", the growing trend of outcry on social media resulting in celebrities being deserted and careers abruptly being derailed following publicized misconduct.
The "reverse milkshake duck"
In October 2018, the term "reverse milkshake duck" was used by a number of news outlets to describe the reversal of one's public image from problematic to positive. A mother with the Twitter username BlueStarNavyMom3 posted a tweet putting forth a picture of her son as an example of an "anti-feminist" and associating him with the #HimToo hashtag. The son, Pieter Hanson, was surprised by the posting and in a newly created Twitter account posted a message stating the opposite:
That was my Mom. Sometimes the people we love do things that hurt us without realizing it. Let's turn this around. I respect and #BelieveWomen. I never have and never will support #HimToo. I'm a proud Navy vet, Cat Dad and Ally. Also, Twitter, your meme game is on point.
The Verge writer Devon Maloney was one of the first to put a name to the reversal, saying, "In what may have been the internet's first-ever reverse milkshake-ducking, Pieter himself finally logged on a few hours later to clear his name once and for all."
Vox's Aja Romano suggested the phenomenon "might actually be whatever the opposite of a Milkshake Duck is — when a viral moment starts out seeming awful but then becomes unexpectedly good." The Guardian said, "Hanson's story may be one of the first instances of the reversal, as the reality of his personality – a seemingly decent and inspiring young man – is a far cry from the sexist way we were introduced to him." Slate described it as, "a viral villain outed as, despite it all, a righteous hero."
A related concept to "milkshake duck" is that of the "problematic fave", describing a notable and popular person who, despite recent offensive or harmful statements or actions, manages to retain their popularity. Entrepreneur Elon Musk has been described as a "problematic fave" following his calling one of the Thai cave rescuers a "pedo guy", ostensibly referencing / conflating without evidence the prominence of child sex tourism and child prostitution in Thailand in response to criticism from Vern Unsworth, a Westerner in Thailand.
Polygon writer Julia Alexander considered that terms like "milkshake duck" and "problematic fave" are a symptom of current cultural conflict on the Internet in which users are ready to be outraged and have the ability to search a person's public Internet history to find statements to support that, and by that nature, anyone could be potentially classified as either of these. Alexander suggests that to avoid the scrutiny of these labels, one should not worry about what statements they may have made, but that they show awareness they made them and that they have grown past or changes away from them.
- "What's a Milkshake Duck, and why is everyone talking about it?". The Daily Dot. 13 June 2017. Retrieved 27 June 2017.
- Tait, Amelia (20 August 2017). "The internet dictionary: what is a Milkshake Duck?". New Statesman. Retrieved 23 October 2017.
- "Youthquake' declared word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries". BBC News. 15 December 2017.
- "Word of the Year 2017: the shortlist". Oxford University Press. Retrieved 30 January 2018.
- Ward, Ben [@pixelatedboat] (12 June 2016). "The whole internet loves Milkshake Duck, a lovely duck that drinks milkshakes! *5 seconds later* We regret to inform you the duck is racist" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
- Bromwich, Jonah Engel (27 June 2017). "How a Joke Becomes a Meme: The Birth of 'Milkshake Duck'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 27 June 2017.
- "Getting 'Milkshake Ducked': An Internet-Specific Tragedy of Our Time". Esquire. 24 June 2017. Retrieved 27 June 2017.
- Koerber, Brian. "Milkshake Duck: We need to stop idolizing unremarkable people on the internet". Esquire. Retrieved 23 October 2017.
- "#98 Fog of Covfefe". Gimlet Media. 8 June 2017. Retrieved 8 July 2017.
- "The Antifa Supersoldier Spectacular". Reply All. Gimlet Media. Retrieved 16 January 2018.
- Webb, Tiger (15 January 2018). "Why 'milkshake duck' is the perfect choice for word of the year". ABC News. Retrieved 15 January 2018.
- "The Committee's Choice for Word of the Year 2017 goes to..." Macquarie Dictionary. 15 January 2018. Retrieved 15 January 2018.
- "'Milkshake duck' wins Australia word prize". BBC News. 2018. Retrieved 10 October 2018.
- Bassett, Jordan (2018-08-29). "Doja Cat, You've Been Cancelled: How The Novelty 'Mooo!' Rapper Became 2018's 'Milkshake Duck'". NME. IPC Media. Retrieved 2018-08-30.
- Ritzen, Stacey (2018-08-29). "Doja Cat Of 'I'm A Cow' Fame Tries To Defend Homophobic Comments In Bad Tweet". Daily Dot. Complex Media. Retrieved 2018-08-30.
- Peters, Micah (2018-09-03). "The Rapid Rise and Fall of Doja Cat in the Era of "Cancel" Culture". The Ringer. Retrieved 2018-09-04.
- Bote, Joshua (2018-08-29). "Doja Cat Comes Under Fire for Defending Homophobic Language in Tweet". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved 2018-08-29.
- Montgomery, Sarah Jasmine (2018-08-29). "Doja Cat Criticized Over Attempt to Explain Her Past Use of a Homophobic Slur". Complex. Retrieved 2018-08-30.
- O'Neil, Luke (2018-10-09). "#HimToo: how an attempt to criticize #MeToo went delightfully wrong". The Guardian. Retrieved 2018-10-10.
- Flynn, Meagan (2018-10-09). "'This is MY son': Navy vet horrified as mom's tweet miscasts him as #HimToo poster boy — and goes viral". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2018-10-10.
- Hoffman, Ashley (2018-10-09). "'That Doesn't Represent Me.' The Man Whose Mom Made Him the Face of a Viral #HimToo Meme Wants No Part of It". Time. Retrieved 2018-10-10.
- Hanson, Pieter [@Thatwasmymom] (October 8, 2018). "That was my Mom. Sometimes the people we love do things that hurt us without realizing it. Let's turn this around. I respect and #BelieveWomen. I never have and never will support #HimToo. I'm a proud Navy vet, Cat Dad and Ally. Also, Twitter, your meme game is on point" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
- Schwedel, Heather (2018-10-09). "Why Twitter's #HimToo Mother-and-Son Saga Was a Satisfying Social Media Moment". Slate. Retrieved 2018-10-10.
- Maloney, Devon (2018-10-09). "Viral mom's #HimToo post about her Navy vet son backfires incredibly". The Verge. Retrieved 2018-10-10.
- Romano, Aja (2018-10-09). "How a mom's "This Is My Son" anti-feminist brag went viral — and completely backfired". Vox. Retrieved 2018-10-10.
- Morris, Wesley (October 3, 2018). "The Morality War". The New York Times. Retrieved November 7, 2018.
- Alexander, Julia (September 5, 2018). "Everyone is a problematic fave and everyone will Milkshake Duck". Polygon. Retrieved September 5, 2018.