My viral clickbait moment

Rick Rolling for good

NOW 3 MILLION CLICKS FOR VOTE.org! UPDATE at the end

Like any good Twitter meme, I stole it.

I saw my friend Rochelle tweet this link during the height of the Kanye in the White House mania. Because she doesn’t normally tweet celebrity gossip, I was curious — so I clicked.

Pssst the link takes you to register to vote at Vote.gov.

You got me! Rick Rolled for a purpose. Commentary on our celebrity-obsessed culture. Clickbait for good.

A good meme is adaptable, and getting out the vote for the next generation is something that’s certainly important to me. My Twitter feed isn’t overtly political — it’s mostly photos of my kids — but I do like to remind people to register.

So I planned to use this same technique during a Packers or Brewers playoff game. But while that may have regional interest, I saw a much larger opportunity when news of a celebrity break-up took over Twitter on Sunday night.

I disguised a link to Vote.org with bit.ly and then hid the preview with a photo of the ill-fated couple. I also made sure to use their full names in my tweet, so anyone who searched any variations of the couple’s names might find this tweet in the trending topics.

I’m not sure what set this in motion toward going viral, but I think an early like from Gina Di Vittorio — who has crafted countless viral tweets — probably helped tip it off to a much larger network. Soon after that, I started seeing people on Twitter with 50K, 100K or 240K followers retweeting it, with subsequent bursts following those retweets.

One of my students forwarded me this tweet ^^

The results so far? More than 200,000 impressions, 1,500 likes and 1,000 retweets. [EDIT: It now has more than 8million impressions, 50,000 retweets and 80,000 likes .]

But those aren’t the stats I care about. There’s a more important Key Performance Indicator, as one of my former social media analytics students astutely pointed out. (Great work, Molly.)

The payoff: People are registering to vote. That’s what matters.
Actual registration!

Yes, it’s using the much-maligned curiosity gap technique, and newsjacking the story of a celebrity break-up. So, do we want people who care about celebrity gossip as voters? A few people raised this point.

Here’s my answer:

Don’t conflate clicking on a clickbait link about current celebrity gossip as qualification or disqualification for taking part in our democratic process. We all should have interests other than politics — maybe it’s celebrities, maybe it’s cheeseburgers! — and that’s OK.

You may or may not care about Peter Davidson and Ariana Grande, but either way you deserve to vote — and you should vote. If this serves as a reminder to 20,500 or so people, then it was worth it.

So my condolences to Pete and Ariana. Obviously, a lot of people care about why you aren’t dating anymore. But don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it helped increase voter engagement.

UPDATE:

Since I wrote this, I’ve been retweeted by Alexis Ohanian and ashton kutcher so the metrics have gone up juuuust a little bit. Now up to 450,000 clicks and climbing rapidly.

HELLO WISCONSIN!

UPDATE AGAIN

Bill Simmons also tweeted it to nearly 6 million followers.. which put the link over 1 MILLION CLICKS.

UPDATE UPDATE

I got retweeted by Colin Hanks and James Corden to 10.5 million followers and honestly at this point i’m not sure how many more notifications my iphone can take but we’re at 1.4 MILLION CLICKS

FINAL UPDATE!

7 million impressions and 2.3 million clicks later… I think this will be my final update. The meme lifecycle — yes this now has its own KnowYourMeme.com page — has run its course and it’s over except the media round-up, my hometown paper localizing the story, ELLE Magazine (US) trying to do the same thing (and getting major backlash), The Daily Show doing a REVERSE RICK ROLL (brilliant) and the think pieces from The Atlantic and Washington Post (are memes good or bad for democracy?? Can you care about entertainment news and voting at the same time?? Is this attention policing? DISCUSS!).

I sincerely appreciate the reporters at VICE News and BuzzFeed who actually reached out and interviewed me, especially BuzzFeed News who talked to real voters who registered.

I also wrote a short Twitter thread about the experiences that you can read here.

This whole thing has been a surreal experience, and I never thought it would get this much attention. But you know what? Mindless celebrity gossip is OK sometimes too. Ben Smith wrote a think piece about political journalism awhile back, and this line resonated with me:

“A Brazilian editor once told me that you could tell his country was in political crisis because everyone was talking about politics all the time,” he wrote. “In a normal country, nobody cares about politics.”

So this weekend, make sure you’re registered to vote, and then if you want it’s OK to kick back and relax with some good old-fashioned mindless entertainment.