A chorus of outraged conservatives, including Matt Drudge, Rush Limbaugh, and Curt Schilling, expressed anger on Monday at what they wrongly called evidence that a postal worker in Ohio had destroyed absentee ballots cast in the Republican’s favor.
The anger was prompted by the widespread misunderstanding of a satirical tweet posted online Sunday by a member of the loose coalition of pranksters known as Weird Twitter, who use the social network to post Dadaist jokes and fictional anecdotes disguised as earnest statements of fact.
i love working at the post office in Columbus, Ohio and ripping up absentee ballots that vote for trump— raandy (@randygdub) October 16, 2016
The satirist, who writes as @randygdub, describes himself only as a “cool and chill guy of online,” living in California. Within minutes of posting his tweet on Sunday, he was surprised and delighted that his joke was mistaken for a genuine confession by Trump supporters eager to find any evidence of the election rigging their candidate, falsely, claims is rampant.
The clearest evidence that the tweet was a joke was found in the author’s deadpan replies to other Twitter users who scolded him for breaking the law.
Despite those clues, late Sunday night, several Trump supporters, including Scott Baio, tried to share their alarm over the rigging in Ohio with the candidate himself. For once, Trump failed to take the bait and did not mention the alleged fraud to his own followers.
The satirist, and some of those who did get his joke, continued to troll those who failed to see it.*
By Monday morning, however, the satirist’s joy at confusing enraged conservatives reached new heights when his tweet was reported as genuine by the right-wing blogger Jim Hoft, who demanded to know if someone in a position of authority would “follow up on this.” It apparently never occurred to Hoft that he could have followed up himself, by attempting to contact the Californian who posted the tweet, or by scanning the rest of his Twitter feed, which is devoted to political comedy.
you know things are going great for the trump campaign when surrogates start saying it's actually normal & cool to think 10 yr olds are hot— raandy (@randygdub) October 13, 2016
frank luntz can i be in your next focus group im also a huge idiot— raandy (@randygdub) October 10, 2016
i am a small business owner and i fired an employee for being a trump supporter— raandy (@randygdub) September 30, 2016
After Hoft’s post was linked to from the home page of the Drudge Report, it was shared more than 90,000 times on Facebook and Twitter.
Within hours, the fictional story had also been discussed, as fact, by Rush Limbaugh and prompted investigations from both the United States Postal Service and the Ohio secretary of state, Jon Husted.
While many conservatives were fooled, those in on the joke, like my colleague Lee Fang, who has followed the @randygdub account for some time, understood the satirist’s method and aim. “His group of Twitter friends have done this all year,” Lee explains, “testing absurdity of how left- and right-wing media echo chambers pick up any info that validates what they want to hear.”
Earlier this year, at a fraught moment of the Democratic primary campaign, another card-carrying member of Weird Twitter, Matt Christman, parodied exaggerated reports of violence at the Nevada state convention in a satirical message.
Christman explained what happened next in an episode of the Chapo Trap House podcast in May. His absurdist parody was, remarkably, mistaken for a genuine eyewitness report and retweeted by a prominent Hillary Clinton supporter, Amy Siskind. Then, he recalled, “I got hundreds of people, freaking out, in my mentions: ‘I cannot believe this is happening!’ ‘The Sanders campaign has to condemn this behavior!’ And it’s something that no person on Earth would take seriously for a second.”
To Christman, the explanation for why supporters of political candidates seem to be so gullible online is that “politics in America is dead as a part of your life.” He continued:
We think of politics all the time, we talk about it, but it’s generally as this spectacle that we absorb. We don’t have a praxis, as the obnoxious say in Marxist lingo, there’s nothing we do on a day-to-day basis that constitutes making a political choice and asserting political ideology. All we really do is, we observe and then we spout off online.
And so what happens is that on the internet, specifically on Twitter, millions of people, fans of every candidate basically have volunteered themselves to be part of the rapid response crew of a given campaign. And they’re going to respond to everything, thinking that they’re helping, having the psychic satisfaction of thinking that they’re helping the campaign.
And because Twitter is just this fucking insane asylum of undifferentiated, context-free streams blasting in your face, it strips your ability to do any kind of rational balanced analysis of things, any ability to challenge whether something is true, and you just become this raw nerve of response. You just have to reflexively respond to any stimuli in this way that’s instantaneous.
* This post was updated to make it clear that @ChrisCaesar was only pretending to not get the joke, and was, in fact, helping to troll @ScottBaio.