A popular photo of basketball player Magic Johnson and actor Samuel L. Jackson that showed them shopping in Italy referred to them as "migrants," adding to the ongoing immigration debate in Italy.

Italian journalist and radio personality Luca Bottura posted a photo Friday of Johnson and Jackson on vacation in Forte dei Marmi, a sea town in northern Tuscany. The photo reads, “Boldrini’s resources in Forte dei Marmi shop at Prada with our €35. Share this picture if you are outraged!!!”

Bottura later said he posted the photo to see how anti-migrant Italians would react. The meme referenced the 35 euros Italian citizens pay for refugees on EU quotas, saying the "migrants" in the photo were using their allowance to go on a shopping spree.

“The meme was shared thousands of times and 40 percent of people understood the provocation, 30 percent were outraged and 20 percent thought it was a racist meme and I had failed to recognize Samuel Jackson and Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson, (I will not reveal the 10 percent),” he later posted on Facebook.

The photo was originally tweeted by Johnson, saying, “Sam and I chilling out on a bench yesterday in Forte dei Marmi, Italy. The fans started lining up to take pictures with us.”

Bottura styled his meme after similar hate memes far-right and anti-immigration groups are currently circulating on social media. The meme addressed the president of the lower house in Italy, Laura Boldrini. She established herself as an advocate for migrants’ rights. In February, she wrote an open letter to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, telling him to better control hate speech and fake news on the social networking site.

Bottura’s meme was reposted by model and singer Nina Moric.

“To see migrants lounging around benches in places like Forte dei Marmi, living off the 35 euros a day that they get from us, is really too much,” she wrote on Facebook.

Moric, originally born in what is now Croatia, previously declared support for a far-right, anti-immigration movement called Casa Pound. She later alleged her post was also a joke, calling it a “social experiment” and saying people use social media to “confirm their prejudices, regardless of what the truth is.”

“I want to clarify — it was an ironic joke. I lived for 10 years between New York and Los Angeles and I recognized those two immediately,” she said to Corriere della Sera newspaper. “I’m a citizen of the world who loves Italy, but not the way the country is governed.”

Some Facebook users did not understand the supposedly ironic nature of the photo, posting comments such as, “Immigrants go home” and “Don’t tell me these people are fleeing from war, because I don’t believe it.”

Immigration has become a point of contention in Italy because of an increasing number of migrants, many of them from West Africa, entering the country. They are rescued in the Mediterranean after being smuggled out of Libya. 

johnson and jackson Actor Samuel L Jackson and basketball player Magic Johnson on a bench in Forte dei Marmi, Italy on August 15, 2017. Photo: Twitter