Read: The 2018 midterms are all about Trump.
It’s worth noting that Elle has aggressively stepped up its political coverage over the past year and regularly tweets about political issues. The magazine recently highlighted 10 women who could make history this November; its coverage of the midterms has been extensive, and the outlet has written several guides on how to get involved in politics this season. “Women currently make up 20 percent of Congress, and that won’t magically jump to 50 percent in one year. But voting—and voting more women into office—gets us that much closer to gender parity,” a recent article on voter turnout reads. (Elle did not respond to a request for comment.)
The idea behind the tweet itself is not new. People have tried spoon-feeding readers hard news by enticing them with clickable titles before. In 2014, Gawker posted a harrowing photo essay featuring images of starving children in North Korea under the headline “10 Absolutely Unbelievable Images From Dennis Rodman’s Vice-Sponsored Trip to North Korea.”
The format of Elle’s tweet itself is also based on a meme that has been spreading rapidly over the past week. It began last weekend, when the educator Tim Cigelske, inspired by an earlier tweet by the civil-rights activist Ashlee Marie Preston, posted the clickbaity phrase “Wow I can’t believe this is why Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson split up,” with a link to Vote.org.
Cigelske’s tweet racked up 45,000 retweets and was shared by Ashton Kutcher, Colin Hanks, and James Corden. The meme quickly spread after that and became a trope.
Still, many people who see news on social media share it blindly, without reading the contents of the article first. This behavior has become so common that it was even parodied by NPR in an April Fools’ Day stunt in 2014. And in the minutes after Elle’s tweet went live, at least two people in my own Twitter feed retweeted the seemingly breaking news in earnest.
The choice to use Kim and Kanye for this stunt can feel off (though many others before Elle have used the duo for this exact meme), considering how politically charged the couple’s relationship has become. Kanye is an outspoken Trump supporter and met with the president just this month. Kim declared that she supported Clinton during the 2016 election, and there has been repeated unsubstantiated speculation that politics has caused a rift in their marriage. Why can’t Elle and others just tweet “Look at what this adorable pup is doing”? a colleague of mine suggested.
Regardless, the meme has seemingly resulted in at least some people registering to vote or updating their information. “ty, i had not updated my address. id have been screwed,” one user tweeted in response to Cigelske. In a Medium post reflecting on his viral moment, Cigelske called his tweet “commentary on our celebrity-obsessed culture. Clickbait for good.”