By: Tatiana G. King
Enter November 6, 2012, Election Day in the U.S. With social media already an overarching part of the lives of millions of users everywhere; people take to their Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts to post photos of their ballots and “I Voted” stickers. This goes on for an hour or so until ultimately, an alarm is rung. “Hey…I don’t think you can do that”, mentions a follower on Twitter; “Isn’t it against the law or something to post your ballot?” queries a user on Instagram. The halfway accurate misgivings about posting your ballot stem from a hazy memory of law in the back of a few minds. While it’s true that in some states it is illegal to post photos of your ballot or post photos of election centers in a public forum (Source: Citizen Media Law Project), the perceived consequences are not quite correct: “You’re not supposed to do that! You’ll get arrested!” warns one. Then someone posts items on all the major social media networks that states along the lines of “Obama has already dropped 3-10% in the polls because people are posting photos of their ballots! Please stop!” And so it begins.
Scores, at least thousands, of people start reposting and retweeting this claim, and similar claims: “Election officials will charge you with a misdemeanor and your vote will be invalidated!” Panic starts overtaking the networks as people are shunning others for posting photos of their ballots. Then, the ballot photos dry up and everyone is ‘educated’. In the days since, it has been fairly clear to anyone that paid attention that no one would “catch a charge” for posting a photo of a ballot. In fact how exactly would an authority figure trace a photo of the ballot back to the actual person then go about prosecuting them for their injustice against humanity? As far as one could tell, there wasn’t an Election Day Internet Goon Squad that was taking away votes based on a photo posted to Facebook. While the mere idea of ballot photo posting being illegal in 50 states (and if you believed it, including the Moon itself) was a bit reckless, the resulting fix was even more absurd. But essentially this solution worked and some people (at least those that may have been caught in areas where the rules were strictly enforced) stopped doing it.
Apparently, that’s the way the Internet works. It seems the fastest, most effective way to get people to believe in absolutely anything online is to blast out ludicrous messages that seems impossible to believe on paper yet it is instantly accepted as truth by the online masses. Want to smack down a rumor? Generate another, more outlandish rumor, contrary to the rumor you’re trying to stamp out of existence. Share a missive so far-fetched, so implausible that people will grab hold of it instantly and spread it like a cold. The same formula of can be lent to online identities. Example? For the days leading up to the election and beyond, a twitter account with the name of @GovChristieNJ, continually sent out funny and odd tweets such as:
Because it’s Twitter and because the account has 10,864 followers (as of today), folks retweeted the purported governor’s messages hundreds of times. Many even started raising eyebrows, shocked that Chris Christie would even publicly say such crazy, wacky things. Some people even got angry. The most entertaining part about all of this was that @GovChristieNJ is not even the real twitter account of the New Jersey governor. The verified account for the real Chris Christie is @GovChristie. Yet despite numerous tweets on the level of The Onion, along with an avatar of a Chris Christie posing with a tray of cannolis (which is totally the best political move for a guy that’s fat-shamed on an daily basis); you couldn’t get people to believe that the fake account wasn’t really him.
Sheer ignorance? Laziness? I say it’s a bit of both. Sure everyone can make a mistake and think fake, incorrect, or parodied info is real once in awhile and share it with their friends. However, within hundreds of people no one takes a step back and says “Hey wait a minute…?” Are people so gullible that they’ll believe anything? Or is the Internet truly a mythical place full of only ‘lolcat’ memes, glitter, and ‘shopped pics?