As Election Day progresses, voting selfies are dominating Instagram. Almost every user has likely encountered at least one from a celebrity or friend, urging other users to perform their civic duty. But as the now tried-and-true format has proliferated, a new one has emerged behind it: the voting thirst trap.
A “thirst trap” can be an attractive person or an attractive photo of an attractive person, posted to social media, aimed at garnering maximum attention. Most thirst traps take the form of bikini pics, shirtless selfies, or perfectly staged poses. An effective thirst trap makes your thumb pause in the feed and gaze for just a second more.
Posting a thirst trap is a great way to rake in a lot of likes on a photo. But as many Instagrammers have found, it’s also a great way to try and get out the vote. “Go swing to your nearest poll today and #vote,” the hair stylist and Instagrammer Joseph Randall posted below a selfie of him nearly naked, in a thong, straddling a wrecking-ball swing above the water in Thailand. “I VOTED,” posted Daniel Henson, a fashion designer with nearly 30,000 followers. The photo above featured a shirtless selfie displaying a set of chiseled abs with an I voted sticker plastered to his skin above his right nipple.
“I wanted to post something that was going to get my followers’ attention,” Randall said. “I knew it was a thirsty photo, but I also wanted it to be different than other posts we see out there encouraging [people] to vote with just the sticker. You come across that in your timeline like 15 million times.” Randall and others who have participated in the trend say that the highly engaging nature of thirst traps actually makes them the perfect vehicle for getting the message out.
Alex Samson, a behavioral therapist in Florida who posted a shirtless selfie of himself with the message, “Hey, get your ass up and go vote!” said that he was just happy to do his small part in the get-out-the-vote movement. “When you post a thirst trap, people look at it more,” he said. “If I can use that and get people to realize that it's voting today, then it worked.”
When Juan Del Toro, a Ph.D. student in New York, got home from the polls this morning, he took his shirt off, set the camera to selfie mode, posted an I voted sticker to his shirtless chest, and shared the photo to Instagram. “Don’t forget to exercise … your right to vote,” he wrote, followed by a winky-face emoji. Del Toro said it was easy, and peeling the sticker off his hairy chest didn’t even hurt.
“I thought it was effective because sex sells. Non-shirtless pics get less likes (40-60) whereas shirtless pics get a ton (200+). So I thought why not,” he wrote via an Instagram direct message, adding that he wanted to “inspire people to do their civic duty and make it seem like voting is a sexy and provocative thing to do. As it should be!”
Not everyone thinks voting thirst traps are harmless. After Henson shared his shirtless pic, a screengrab of it was taken and made into a meme that promptly went viral on Twitter. The tweet mocking him racked up thousands of likes and replies claiming that he was only seeking attention. “I’m screaming,” one man tweeted in reply to the photo. “The reaction has sort of been degrading and ridiculed and that’s the part I don’t like,” Henson said. But he did find a warmer reception among his followers. “Motivates me to do about 500 sit ups AND THEN vote,” one person commented.
“What sucks the most is I honestly was trying to bring awareness to it,” said Henson. “I’m not just taking anything and making it a thirst-trap photo. Obviously it’s a shirtless photo, it’s egotistical, but I’m aware it draws the most attention, so why not try to use that to get people out there voting?”
Instagram as a platform also made a huge push to inform its users about Election Day. Last week it rolled out an interactive “Voted” sticker that helps users find their polling place. On Monday and Tuesday, people in the U.S. also saw a custom community story featuring clips from their friends who had posted about voting. Many users also couldn’t open up their “Explore” tab without being bombarded with some type of get-out-the-vote messaging, including thirst traps.
And while a large number of people posting voting thirst traps are men, women have also participated. Several women posted images of themselves to Instagram with I voted stickers over their nipples. Others have used photos in bikinis or skimpy workout wear to draw attention to the cause. Beyoncé posted a photo of herself in a crop top showing off a hat in support of Beto O’Rourke. “I saw one pic of a woman with her whole chest out. She had nothing but googly eyes on her nipples and she was talking about getting out to vote,” Henson said.
Randall noted that for many young people, Tuesday would be the first chance they’d have to go to the polls.
“In order to reach and engage with these people, you need to speak their language,” Randall said, “and their language is a thirst trap.”