Voting is good. We should all aspire to an informed and active citizenry; our nation would be better for it.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, a simple request: Please, for the love of God, stop hiding voter registration links inside celebrity gossip on Twitter.
It’s the hot new trend, or something, on the world’s second-most-dystopian social network. Thursday it was Elle, which took it upon itself to drop a link to whenweallvote.org buried in made-up Kimye news:
If that particular item looked familiar, take a gander at this tweet from six days ago, which at press time had topped 60,000 retweets and which forwards, naturally, to vote.gov:
Welp...it’s official...Kim Kardashian finally decided to divorce Kanye West... https://t.co/C2p25mxWJO— Ashlee Marie Preston (@AshleeMPreston) October 12, 2018
Preston’s tweet appears to be patient zero, inspiring a slew of imitators that were mostly more subtle in their homage than Elle. There was a Seinfeld variant that linked to vote.org:
holy shit— Seinfeld Current Day (@Seinfeld2000) October 17, 2018
NBC is actualy bringing seinfeld backhttps://t.co/1afm0s6UpU
And an extremely viral Pete Davidson–Ariana Grande one (also to vote.org):
And an Alamo Drafthouse spin (to an in-house blog about the importance of voting):
And a particularly interesting Tom Hardy one (vote.org yet again):
(When I mentioned that I had clicked on that last one for the sake of science, a colleague sent me an eggplant emoji. This was uncalled for.)
Civilians waded into the fray; you, too, can slap a voter registration link to a bit.ly shell, add a relevant photo, and hope for viral infamy. Maybe you’ll find it! The flurry of incognito voting inspo got breathless coverage: “The New Way to Get People to Register to Vote Is to Trick Them Into It With Celebrity Gossip,” wrote Slate; “These Memes Rickrolled Millions of Visitors to Voter Registration Sites,” crowed Vice. The Vice piece included a screenshot of clicks on one of the faux links, as if to suggest that the ploy was working: Look at all the people heading to vote.org! Not included: A chart showing the average duration on the site, or all the people who immediately closed the tab upon learning they’d been duped.
But Elle’s tweet was different, both in approach and response. By later Thursday afternoon, after quite a bit of grumbling on Twitter, Elle had issued an apology: “We made a bad joke. Our passion for voter registration clouded our judgement and we are sincerely sorry.” The transgression was twofold: It is especially galling for a news organization to tweet a blatant falsehood (the state of Kimye is as sound as it ever was, so far as any of us in the Twitter public know), and the forwarding-to-voter-registration joke — and it was a joke — just wasn’t very funny.
Another thing: The information itself isn’t even very useful. As of Thursday, October 18, voter registration has already closed in 29 states, including Texas, Florida, New York, and Virginia. The already-closed states include those where 18 of the 31 House races The New York Times qualified this week as toss-ups will occur; the voters who will decide Beto O’Rourke versus Ted Cruz and Claire McCaskill versus Josh Hawley have already been locked in.
At this point, the trick URLs are essentially a joke, and one that’s increasingly at the expense of more sincere efforts to get out the vote: Could Elle possibly have thought even one of its readers, having clicked on a salacious story about two extremely famous people and discovered they’d been had, would then realize they’d been neglecting their civic duties? Or was Elle just aping a format that’s been bouncing around? There’s a word for that: meme. And if it’s a meme, it’s not a very funny one.