Sometimes things said in jest a relative few years ago could get you in hot water these days. Social media robs comments of context even as it shares them with the world. Then, once someone has given a soundbite the meme treatment, all bets are off. Just ask Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who has been in the news recently after reportedly threatening to shoot journalists.
Except, Gov. Abbott wasn’t really threatening anyone. He was clearly joking, and everyone was in on the joke … except for the millions on social media who heard about it secondhand and took it completely wrong. Here’s how it went down…
Gov. Abbott was visiting a gun range in order to set up a photo op as he signed a bill lowering the cost of a handgun license. Now, think what you might about this bill and the cheesy location choices to create optimum optics, but, remember, this is Texas, and guns are very popular. So, for all intents and purposes, Abbott was simply doing the same sort of quick photo session politicians do all the time, and some governors do more than many others.
Of course, there was a group of journalists there covering the event. After Abbott demonstrated his own relative shooting prowess, he grabbed his bullet-riddled target and held it up for the cameras, “I’m gonna carry this around in case I see any reporters…” Abbott quipped.
Now, consider, this is in the moment, and he’s clearly kidding. Everyone there seemed to be in on the joke. Folks laughed, even many of the reporters on the scene. All of them knew Abbott was kidding, and the comment was treated as a throwaway joke. But, apparently not by everyone.
After the photo was published in the Texas Tribune, the “story” was picked up by Reporters Without Borders, who took the governor to task for what they considered crossing the line:
“This joke was dangerous and out of line. Because it’s never just a joke to some… Words matter. In a state and country where dangerous people can still so easily buy guns without a background check, leaders of every political stripe should be careful not to green light violence on their behalf.”
Others picked up on this version of the bill, and suddenly a parallel story was created, much to the surprise of Gov. Abbott and most of the reporters who were there. Now, the essentially made up controversy has taken wings, and everyone involved has to address the issue.
The lesson here? While you used to be able to shrug off a bad joke and move on with life, now … it’s forever. Be aware, and be careful.