People are mistaking a Baltimore Orioles meme for an election misinformation botnet

Social networks have spent this week handling high-profile misinformation. But under the radar — or at least under many tweets from President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden — some users are baiting earnest election-watchers with a long-running Twitter joke.

The copypasta — which has popped up dozens of times under Trump tweets, Biden tweets, and election-related tweets from news outlets — involves apparently devastated Twitter users threatening to leave the country.

“That’s it. That seals the deal,” reads a typical example. “I’ve been an American citizen for 54 years and in all my time of being one i’ve never seen an election this bad. I’ve had enough of it, until you fix this country. I’ll be packing my bags to England where they actually know how to run a country.”

The tweets fit a well-worn cliché about Americans threatening to emigrate after an election, and they’ve gotten significant engagement on Twitter — often in the form of agreement or schadenfreude-laden “goodbye” gifs. But a quick search for “that seals the deal” immediately reveals a long list of posts with nearly identical phrasing, tweeted by a variety of unrelated accounts.

Weird. It’s like twitter is not all that trustworthy. pic.twitter.com/82KsDgN0nZ

— Scott Johnson (@scottjohnson) November 4, 2020

Podcaster and cartoonist Scott Johnson, among other people on Twitter, flagged some examples in a screenshot. “Weird,” he tweeted sardonically, “it’s like Twitter is not all that trustworthy.” Several tweets referred to them as bots, potentially deployed to divide Americans after the election, similar to the Russian Internet Research Agency’s coordinated meme warfare.

But as social media bot researcher Conspirador Norteño has pointed out, this almost certainly isn’t a coordinated misinformation campaign. Instead, it’s a mutation of a year-old sports joke. Norteño scraped thousands of tweets using the formula back in August, when they cropped up in response to this summer’s NBA boycott. In a detailed Twitter thread, Norteño concluded that “very few” of the tweets were automated. Instead, they were likely riffs on a 2019 tweet from an account called @will61375, originally directed at the Baltimore Orioles.

Norteño writes that the meme blew up in mid-2020, when an account called @YearOfTheCovid used it to reply to a Red Sox #BlackLivesMatter tweet. The account owner (who now uses a different handle) tells The Verge that the tweet was ironic. “I was using it in a joking matter, essentially mocking Trump boomers on here,” they said. The copypasta’s apparent original creator didn’t reply to a tweeted request for comment.

That seals the deal. I am no longer an Orioles fan. I’ve been a fan since 1982 and a season ticket holder since 1996. I officially will not be renewing my plan next season nor will I watch on tv ever again. Elias is officially the worst gm in history.

— Will Shiflett (@will61375) July 13, 2019

And in fact, some of the recent iterations are very obviously jokes from accounts that post overwhelmingly about sports and don’t fit the profile of a political bot. One user swears they’re going to London, “the only place a [Champions League] trophy can be found.” Another changes the destination to Venezuela, a choice guaranteed to needle conservative readers, then responds to a slew of replies with “you just got baited.” Yet another says they’re leaving America for Alaska. “It’s really just a popular meme,” the author of the London tweet told The Verge over direct message.

The behavior has still drawn Twitter’s opprobrium. In August, Twitter’s communications team said it “may limit the visibility” of copypasta tweets — even if they’re not malicious. That’s happening again after the election. “We’re aware of this and tweets with that copy may see reduced visibility,” a spokesperson tells The Verge.

But amid a flood of deliberate disinformation, there’s no reason to see this particular Twitter trend as nefarious. “It’s a Baltimore Orioles copypasta, not a botnet,” writes Norteño.

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