You’ve probably seen posts on social media lately — while sifting through pet photos on your Facebook feed, in-between the latest vile Trump tweets on Twitter — that purport to share some breaking news, juicy gossip or NSFW clickbait, accompanied by a bit.ly link. But instead of giving you what you want, they’re actually well-crafted ploys urging you to register to vote. Capitalizing on Americans’ perpetual greater interest in celebrity breakups and nude pics, “pollrolling” is a new tool in activists’ arsenal to get people mobilized for the U.S. midterm elections.
“Initially I was slightly annoyed that the internet kept falling for Trumpye West and all of his antics,” says Ashlee Marie Preston, trans activist and originator of the term “pollrolling,” so called for being a more politically minded version of “Rickrolling,” the internet phenomenon in which people use dastardly tricks to get people to watch this. “I began fantasizing about the tangible results my generation could achieve if we spent more time keeping up with Congress than we did the Kardashians.”
Preston’s initial comment on the recent Kanye West / Donald Trump headlines criticized the masses for giving the rapper exactly what he wanted, for both himself and his scatterbrained ideas — attention. Acknowledging that her first tweet “sounded a bit judgy,” Preston decided that she instead “wanted to meet them at their point of interest — while inspiring them to take action.”
And thus, “pollrolling” was born.
“I suddenly remembered those super annoying ‘Rickroll’ videos on YouTube from a few years back,” she says. “That’s when I thought, What if I found a way to ‘Pollroll’ the midterms into people’s minds? Since people were obsessed with Kanye and Kim, I used their obsession with celebrity as an on-ramp into the conversation.”
Welp…it’s official…Kim Kardashian finally decided to divorce Kanye West… https://t.co/C2p25mxWJO
— Ashlee Marie Preston (@AshleeMPreston) October 12, 2018
When someone clicks on the bit.ly link in the tweet above, they’re taken to Vote.gov.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Preston’s initial attempt at mobilizing Americans to register to vote ahead of the midterm elections quickly became a phenomenon. Her “pollrolling” tweet has (as of the time of this article’s publication) been liked nearly 150,000 times and has been retweeted by more than 60,000 Twitter accounts.
Many on social media have since followed suit, and over the past week “pollrolling” posts have been prevalent.
More amazing still, the bit.ly link Preston used in her pollrolling tweet has been clicked on (as of Oct. 16) 2.5 million times. That’s two and a half million people who were taken to Vote.gov, and one can only hope a fraction of those people who might not have been previously registered to vote — perhaps those who stick to twisted tales of celebrity relationships and can’t be bothered with politics — are now ready and able to participate in the midterm elections.
“I was stunned by the response I received from the tweet, but I shouldn’t have been,” says Preston, who has long fought on the side of women’s rights and rights for the larger LGBTQ community. “Celebrity news often dominates the news cycle while distracting people from the upcoming elections, climate change and the environment, racial injustice, immigration and other major developments.”
Preston insists that “we’re not in ‘business as usual’ mode” anymore,” referencing attempts being made to get people mobilized for the midterm elections. “We’re talking about the issues that matter and are leveling the conversational playing field for those who haven’t been socialized into politics but want to learn,” she says. “It’s about meeting people where they are, especially Millennials and Gen-Z’ers. Pollrolling has them on a roll, and the future is beginning to look a bit more hopeful.”
Pop artist Taylor Swift made headlines last week when she endorsed two Democrat candidates in her home state of Tennessee and encouraged her fans to register to vote — a simple act that within two days saw more than 100,000 people between 18–29 get registered online.
Will the recent spike in the number of people registered to vote — particularly younger Americans — bode well for liberal causes next month? Only time will tell. But Ashlee Marie Preston is hopeful: “The fact that my and other pollrolling tweets are making waves is a good sign of what the midterm elections outcome could look like.”