A Twitter meme released by the Texas Republican Party on Friday that compared the queue for COVID-19 tests to the queue to vote quickly angered the left, giddy on the right, and moved on to one of the hottest posts on the platform that day.

In other words, experts in Internet propaganda and disinformation have said, the meme did exactly what it was supposed to do.

“The goal is to divide people more, but to divide them by making them feel like they are part of a group,” said Sam Woolley, assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin, who is also principal. propaganda research project at the Center for Media Engagement.

He added that such an approach is “driven by a perspective that other people who don’t believe in what you believe are the enemy, rather than fellow Americans.”

The meme, which came from the official Texas GOP account, used a photo of a COVID-19 testing site line in New York City and included the text: “If you can queue for hours for testing … You can. vote in person. “It was a message that some critics suggested that excessive wait times were acceptable and highlighted the issues that disproportionately affect communities of color.

Such memes, experts say, are part of a growing political social media strategy that has seen success in recent years: bundle complicated information into short, streamlined bites and use them to divide people into distinct groups that s ‘oppose each other.

“You are a victim of rabies breeding,” John Scott-Railton, senior researcher on disinformation and cyberattacks at the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, wrote in a tweet to people who were reacting angrily to the meme. He said responding to the tweet provided the GOP with a bigger megaphone: “Your angry quote tweet = the goal.”

Polarizing memes have become more prominent in US politics since the election of former President Donald Trump, Woolley said, adding that Republicans and Democrats’ social media accounts have used them as tools. On the left, Occupy Democrats, a group that posts high-profile political stories on their website and social media accounts, used these polarized memes to build a following social network on Facebook. Far-right Republican groups have used politically divisive memes to attack supporters of expanded voting measures, Black Lives Matters protesters, and to fight face masks and vaccines.

But Woolley said the Texas GOP meme is distinct because it was posted from a political party’s official social media account. The meme marks a departure from the account’s typical photo posts, which tend to focus on legislation, events, and announcements.

“It is rare, and particularly concerning, that this is from the official Texas GOP account,” Woolley said.

Earlier this year, the Texas Legislature passed new voting restrictions, backed by the Republican Party, that banned 24-hour voting and added new voter identification requirements. GOP leaders also unsuccessfully pushed Gov. Greg Abbott to recall state lawmakers for a fourth special session to ban vaccination warrants. Instead, the governor issued an executive order banning vaccination warrants.

A spokesman for the Texas Republican Party said in a statement to the Tribune it was hypocritical of the Biden administration to allow people to line up for a COVID-19 test, but approved the vote by mail as a way to reduce the spread of COVID-19 through queues and face-to-face interactions.

“If one is safe, the other is too,” wrote James Wesolek, spokesman for the Texas Republican Party, in a statement. “We appreciated seeing the Liberals lose their minds when faced with the truth yesterday.”

Rhetoric similar to that used in the Texas GOP meme on Friday appeared in far-right social media posts as early as the spring of 2020. Public health experts and election security experts had recommended states use the postal ballots as an alternative to in-person voting. vote to avoid spreading the coronavirus to vulnerable populations. In response, far-right groups have started sharing memes comparing queues to vote to other common activities people have to queue for.

A meme that was reposted by Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller showed a photo of a line of customers waiting outside a store with carts and another showing a line to vote. “If you can do this six feet away… you can do it six feet away,” the meme said.

The formula evolved in the summer of 2020 when the Black Lives Matter protests swept across the nation in response to the police murder of George Floyd. Former President Donald Trump tweeted on August 19, 2020: “IF YOU CAN PROTEST IN PERSON, YOU CAN VOTE IN PERSON!”

Friday’s meme, which followed the same formula, drew criticism from several Democratic politicians, political experts and other Twitter users who said COVID-19 testing and voting should be made more accessible by the government, and that lines create delays and challenges that disproportionately deprive the right to vote. voters of color.

The tweet garnered over 12,000 retweets and over 52,000 likes as of 9 p.m. Saturday on Twitter. The angry reactions drew attention to the meme, which the Republican Party acknowledged in a subsequent tweet, noting that “Texas GOP” was Twitter’s No. 4 trending topic in the United States on Friday.

“Cry more,” another Texas GOP article said, after saying the meme drives “pronouns in organic people” crazy.

Anger tends to oversimplify what might otherwise be a complex bipartisan issue, said James Slattery, senior attorney at the Texas Civil Rights Project, who advocates for equal access to the vote in elections.

“Nobody really likes wasting time in queues for hours,” Slattery said. “You shouldn’t have to queue to vote, and you shouldn’t have to queue to get tested for COVID. “

Long voting lines have a disproportionate impact on voters of color, research shows. A 2020 study from the University of California, Los Angeles found that people who live in predominantly black neighborhoods wait 29% longer to vote than those who live in predominantly white neighborhoods.

The longer voters have to wait to vote, the less likely they are to vote, Slattery said. He said the main causes of long lines in Texas in recent elections were understaffing during a surge in voter turnout, lack of resources or training for election officials which causes dysfunction. machinery and logistical issues; and polling station closures across the state. Texas counties have closed more polling stations than any other state, according to a 2016 analysis from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

“State and local governments should make it easier for citizens to vote because, at the end of the day, it’s about holding those governments accountable,” Slattery said. “Voting is not like almost any other activity in our society. You have a fundamental right to vote which is essential to the survival of our democracy. “

Natalie Martinez contributed reporting.

This article originally appeared in the Texas Tribune. The Texas Tribune is a non-partisan, member-backed newsroom that educates and engages Texans about state politics and politics. Learn more at texatribune.org.

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