Like most people I know, I will take just about any BuzzFeed quiz. In fact, I will take many of them twice! I want to know that I’m really just like Daenerys Targaryen, and that it wasn’t a fluke the first time I got that response. And I even like taking quizzes in which I can’t manipulate the outcome because I don’t know enough about the characters. Like, I took the “Which True Detective Character Are You?” quiz before I’d even watched a single episode. (I got Beth! I didn’t know what that meant. And now I do! Fun. Or, well, traumatizing. Anyway.) But sometimes I’ve come across a BuzzFeed quiz that I didn’t want to take because maybe it didn’t align with my interests at all (I really don’t care what character from the Bible I am) or because maybe it’s very existence makes me roll my eyes (“what kind of a hipster are you?” no, thanks), but rarely am I offended by a BuzzFeed quiz, you know? In fact, rarely am I offended by anything on BuzzFeed that isn’t posted by Benny Johnson (I am, however, almost always offended by everything posted by Benny Johnson, so).
But that all changed yesterday afternoon when I noticed a few tweets from BuzzFeed writers about what deposed Arab dictator they were—Mubarak! Gaddafi! Morsi!—and clicked on the link to the latest BuzzFeed quiz, “Which Ousted Arab Spring Ruler Are You?” (Yeah, I’m not linking to it. Sorry.) When I first saw the title of the quiz, I rolled my eyes at the obvious trolling and lack of any sort of political sensitivity. After all, it’s just been a couple of days since BuzzFeed ran Benny Johnson’s execrable explanation of the Obama/Putin showdown using GIFs from The Hills (also not linking!), so it’s easy to remember the BuzzFeed doesn’t always aim super-high with its political coverage. (Even though, let’s not forget, Michael Hastings wrote for BuzzFeed, so it’s not always been like this.) And then I saw that the quiz had been authored by Miriam Berger, whose twitter bio reveals was a Fulbright fellow in Egypt and an “all around media and Middle East junkie.” Berger has written many thoughtful posts for BuzzFeed about Russia, Syria, Turkey, and Venezuela, and so it was initially hard to believe that she would be so glib about ongoing political and humanitarian crises in a region that it would be easy to assume she cares about. And so, maybe this quiz wasn’t as obviously terrible and pointlessly provocative as I’d first thought? Maybe taking it would be like taking another recent BuzzFeed quiz— “How Should You Actually Dress for Your Body Type?“—wherein the joke was on you for even taking it, and the only answer revealed at the end would be to demonstrate the absurdity inherent in online quizzes. Maybe?
Or, you know, maybe not. As it turns out, this whole ousted dictator thing is pretty straight-forward as far as BuzzFeed quizzes go, and based on what Tang flavor you prefer or which disgruntled demographic is most relatable, you can find out if you’re just like Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen. In case you didn’t know, Saleh was deposed in 2012, but despite not living in Yemen, many “accuse him of arranging terrorist attacks and some of the assassinations of more than 150 high-ranking officers and political figures over the past two years.” Now you know! Aren’t you glad you took this quiz?
For her part, Berger responded on twitter to the many people who were offended by the quiz with this tweet:
Feeling offended? Well, these were offensive men: Which Ousted Arab Spring Ruler Are You? http://t.co/xgyCQYr6jT
— Miriam A Berger (@MiriamABerger) March 7, 2014
Which strikes us as rather willfully missing the point entirely. This quiz is akin to BuzzFeed posting ones along the lines of “Which School Shooter Are You?” or “Which 9/11 Terrorist Would You Have Been?” But, of course, those quizzes are never going to be on BuzzFeed, because the victims of school shooters and the 9/11 attacks were mostly American, and thus more identifiable to the majority of people who take BuzzFeed quizzes than are the victims of the dictators in Libya or Yemen or Egypt. This is also the reason why Benny Johnson can sophomorically reduce major geopolitical issues to a dozen GIFs from an off-the-air MTV reality show. But it’s disgraceful. Not just empirically (although that too), but it’s very specifically disgraceful for BuzzFeed to allow it to happen because of all the really good work that goes on there and the smart, considerate writers on staff and contributing. Almost every media company performs a balancing of some kind with the kind of content that writers want to put out, and the kind of content that they get pressured into doing by higher-ups. But BuzzFeed is one of the biggest, most successful media companies on the scene right now. This kind of thing isn’t necessary, and it’s insulting to the rest of the staff, to the readers, and to the millions of people affected by the turmoil that continues to rock the entire Arab world. Do better, BuzzFeed. And stick to the quizzes like “What Twin Peaks Character Are You?” Nobody could find fault with that.
Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen