not cool

Tricking Your Readers Isn’t Cute, Even If It’s in the Name of Voter Registration

Don’t believe everything you read on Twitter. Photo: Screenshot via Twitter

In sad and true news, the whirlwind romance between Pete Davidson and Ariana Grande is no more. The two have not commented on why their relationship went south or why the called of their engagement. But a tweet making the rounds earlier this week containing a link, a picture of the pair, and the text, “Wow I can’t believe this is why Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson split up” promised the answers. That was until you clicked it and realized the link doesn’t bring you to any sort of news outlet. Instead, it brings you to Think of it as a civic Rickroll.

This was funny. This was potentially useful. This didn’t harm anybody who clicked or shared the link. It was also a copycat. The originator of the form, Ashley Marie Preston, tweeted similar set-up tweet about Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West, two days prior. Over 2.5 million people clicked that link, Vice reports, though that number has no bearing on how many of those clicks were from unregistered voters or translated to registrations. Still, a novel, if tricky, gag.

But today the meme reached its inevitable conclusion when a brand co-opted it. Elle tweeted a nearly identical tweet to Preston’s, declaring Kimye was splitting up. The link in the tweet brings you to an Elle-branded page for When We All Vote, a voting awareness nonprofit. (The link is, comically enough, broken. It presents no actionable or clickable options once you land there.)

Compared to just one person doing it, there’s something squicky about the meme being used by a media company. Mostly because, on Twitter, we’re trained to not necessarily believe everything we see posted from singular users. Or, at the very least, that we should trust but verify it. (Preston has a verified Twitter, but as precedent has shown that’s not always indicative of an accounts validity.) A tweet from a media outlet, however, is a different story entirely. We’re supposed to be able to trust — in theory — media outlets to provide us with real news. Non-fake news, at the very least.

Thing thing with Twitter is that not everyone is going to bother with the steps involved in verifying the information they see before deciding to share it themselves. Often, people share things based on the image and the text in the tweet alone, without ever bothering to click on the link. Meaning if somebody saw that tweet and didn’t click the headline, they’d likely truly believe they were sharing a story from Elle, a reputable outlet, with information about the state of Kim and Kanye West’s marriage. (Not even going to dive into the grossness and cruelty of this strategy, but it’s worth noting amid the numerous replies from people on Twitter calling out Elle for this click-bait tactic, are plenty of people celebrating the so-called demise of the couple’s relationship.)

Am I a humorless crone? Maybe. Yes. But it’s a slippery slope from media outlets “joking” about Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West’s marriage to outlets “joking” about more important issues. Like, say, the ongoing saga that is Kanye West’s relationship with Donald Trump. Plus, nobody likes to be made to feel dumb, particularly if you’re being made to feel dumb by the very places you go to for information to make yourself smarter. Voter registration is, obviously, an incredibly important issue as we approach midterm elections. It’s great to see people online taking initiative to get others to make sure they’ll be ready to fill out their ballots in November, even if that initiative does involve a harmless prank. (A report from BuzzFeed found that those tweets actually did translate to voter registrations.) It’s less great to see the same behaviors from a media outlet. In this the era of fake news, we need those to stick to sharing, well, real news. So that if Kim and Kanye West do split up, we’ll be able to trust them.

Tricking Readers Isn’t Cute, Even for Voter Registration