Updated at 10:24 a.m. ET on April 22, 2020.
The memes came first.
A two-second grimace and a face-palm were all it took to launch Anthony Fauci into the internet’s collective conscience—his reaction to President Donald Trump’s criticism of the “Deep State Department” during a coronavirus task-force briefing in mid-March.
Immediately, the hashtag #FauciFacepalm started trending on Twitter; scores of TikTok videos (including one set to One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful”) flooded the platform; and, as my colleague Kaitlyn Tiffany has reported, lustful confessions of Fauci’s sex appeal popped up everywhere.
Then came the guest appearances by the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: a podcast interview with the sharp-tongued hosts from Barstool Sports, a chat with the NBA star Steph Curry on Instagram Live, a live-stream with Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook, and appearances on four popular YouTube channels.
Fauci has developed the kind of internet presence that many public figures, politicians especially, only dream of building. It’s partially the product of his gameness to go on unconventional digital platforms, but it’s organic too. The denizens of the internet have chosen to make him ubiquitous, a privilege reserved for those who demonstrate authenticity, relatability, and trustworthiness. In Fauci’s case, the 79-year-old immunologist has used this influence to inform Americans about the coronavirus and debunk myths, even as his status within the administration has become more precarious over time.