Texas GOP voting meme shows how Trump-style texting gets internet attention

A Twitter meme posted on Friday by the Texas Republican comparing queuing for a COVID-19 test to queuing for a vote quickly incited anger from the left, giddiness from the right. and rose to one of the top trending posts on the platform that day.

In other words, experts on internet propaganda and misinformation say, the meme did exactly what it was intended to do.

“The aim is to divide people even further, but to divide them by making things worse,” said Sam Woolley, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin who is also the project manager for propaganda studies at Austin. they feel they are part of a group. Media Interaction Center.

He added that such an approach is “fueled by a view that other people don’t believe what you believe to be the enemy, not the Americans.”

The meme, coming from the official account for the Texas GOP, used a photo of the COVID-19 testing site line in New York and accompanied by the words, “If you can wait in line for hours to check… You can vote in person.” It’s a message that some critics say excessive waiting times are tolerable and that sheds light on issues that disproportionately affect communities of color.

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Such memes, experts say, are part of a burgeoning political social media strategy that has become successful in recent years: Bundling complex information into short, simplified and Use it to divide people into distinct groups that are opposed to each other.

John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher in disinformation and cyberattacks at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, wrote in a tweet to those who are reacting angrily to the meme. He say that responding to the tweet provided the GOP with a bigger megaphone: “Tweet your angry quote = target.”

Polarizing memes have become more prominent in American politics since the election of former President Donald Trump, Woolley said, adding that social media accounts for Republicans and Democrats have become more prominent, Woolley said. Use them as tools. On the left, Occupy Democrats, a group that publishes widely accessible political posts on its website and social media accounts, has used such polarizing memes to build Follow social networks on Facebook. Republican far-right groups have used the politically divisive meme to attack supporters of extended voting measures, those who oppose Black Lives Matters and are against masks and vaccines.

But Woolley said the Texas GOP meme is different because it was released from the official social media account of a political party. The meme marks a departure from the typical account photo posts, which tend to focus on legislation, events, and announcements.

RELATED: Texas Republican Party Wins Voting War

“It’s uncommon, and especially disturbing, for this to come from the official GOP Texas account,” says Woolley.

Earlier this year, the Texas Legislature adopted new restrictions on voting, backed by Republicans, banned 24-hour voting and added new voter ID requirements. GOP leaders were also unsuccessful in getting Governor Greg Abbott to call state lawmakers to return to Wednesday’s special session to ban vaccine mandates. The instead the governor issued an executive order Mandatory vaccination is prohibited.

A Texas Republican spokesman said in a statement to the Tribune that it was hypocritical for the Biden Administration to allow people to stand in line to take a COVID-19 test, but confirmed voting by mail. as a means of reducing the spread of COVID-19 from in-line and face-to-face interactions.

“If one is safe, so is the other,” James Wesolek, a spokesman for the Texas Republican Party, wrote in a statement. “We would love to see libertarians lose their minds in the face of yesterday’s truth.”

Rhetoric similar to one used in Friday’s Texas GOP meme appeared in far-right social media posts in early spring 2020. Public health expert and Election security experts have recommends states to use mail-in ballots as an alternative to in-person voting to avoid spreading the coronavirus to vulnerable populations. In response, far-right groups began sharing memes comparing voting queues to other popular activities where people had to wait in line.

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A meme was reposted by Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller showed one photo of a line of customers waiting outside a store with trolleys and another showing a line to vote. “If you can do this six feet apart…you can do this six feet apart,” the meme said.

Formula evolves in summer 2020 as Black Lives Matter protests sweep the country in response to police murders by George Floyd. Former President Donald Trump tweeted on August 19, 2020: “IF YOU CAN TEST IN PERSONALITY, YOU CAN IGNORE PERSONALITY!”

Friday’s meme, following the same formula, drew criticism from some Democratic politicians, policy experts and other Twitter users who argued that COVID-19 testing and voting should be made easier by government, and those lines create delays and challenges that disproportionately disqualify voters of color.

The tweet has garnered more than 12,000 retweets and more than 52,000 likes by 9 p.m. Saturday on Twitter. The furious reactions raised attention to the meme, which Republicans acknowledged in a later tweet, pointing out that “Texas GOP” was Twitter’s #4 trending topic in the US on Friday.

“Cry more,” another Texas GOP post claimed, after saying the meme drove “biographical pronouns” mad.

James Slattery, senior attorney at the Texas Civil Rights Project, which advocates for equal access to elections, says anger tends to oversimplify what can be a problem. complex bipartisan issue.

“No one really likes to waste time queuing for hours,” says Slattery. “You don’t have to wait in line to vote and you don’t have to wait in long lines to get tested for COVID.”

Research has found that long voting lines disproportionately affect voters of color. ONE 2020 University of California at Los Angeles Research shows that people living in predominantly Black neighborhoods wait 29% longer to vote than people living in predominantly White neighborhoods.

Slattery said. He said the leading cause of long lines of voters in Texas in recent elections stemming from staffing shortages during a time of spike in voter turnout, a lack of resources or training for poll workers causing mechanical malfunctions and logistical problems, and Polling stations in the state are closed. Texas counties have closed more polling stations than any other state, according to a 2016 Analysis of the Leadership Conference on Human and Civil Rights.

“State and local governments should make it easier for people to vote because at the end of the day, government is accountable,” Slattery said. “Voting is unlike most other activities in our society. You have a fundamental right to vote that is vital to the survival of our democracy.”

Natalie Martinez contributed reporting. Texas GOP voting meme shows how Trump-style texting gets internet attention

Huynh Nguyen

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