The Observer’s Year in Social Media: 2019

The hill Texas Republicans fought so hard for, only to abandon it.EXPAND
The hill Texas Republicans fought so hard for, only to abandon it.
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Social media is doing its best to destroy the news industry. Temperamental algorithms shift page views — oxygen for publications like the Observer — up or down, seemingly on a whim. Anonymity means abuse flows freely from trolls to journalists, further wearying reporters working in newsrooms that have already seen their staffs cut to the bone. The less media-literate among us incubate brain worms spawned by outlets that have prioritized Facebook "likes, comments and shares" above everything else.

If there's a silver lining to all the black clouds, it's getting to watch politicians and other newsmakers commit unforced error after unforced error on social platforms. This year, like the year before it and every other year of the last decade-plus, provided an exceptional crop of stuff that makes one cower in fear, turn red with anger or laugh out loud, occasionally all at the same time.

Here are the Observer's favorite social media moments of 2019.

1. Ted Cruz continues to step on the Twitter rake — Texas' junior senator is a lot of things. Funny isn't one of them. In the aftermath of the catastrophic fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris this spring, he decided a pledge from Disney to help with the repairs was good inspiration for a bad joke. 

Twitter did not take kindly to the senator's botch job, and roasted him for hours.

2. Greg Abbott loves Chick-fil-A — Texas' governor celebrated signing the so-called "save Chick-fil-A bill" — which bans local governments from acting against people or businesses based on their donations or support of religious groups — with an absurd signing ceremony.

3. Until he doesn't — It took Abbott until November to turn on the restaurant. Angered by Chick-fil-A's decision to stop donating to anti-LGBTQ groups, the governor tweeted that he was going to Bill Miller's — an aggressively mediocre barbecue chain — for dinner.

4. Dallas cops exposed. — In June, the Plain View Project, a database put together by a group of Philadelphia lawyers, went live, exposing Facebook posts made by law enforcement officers that it believed "could undermine public trust and confidence in police."

Dozens of posts from Dallas officers were included in the database.

The Observer’s Year in Social Media: 2019
Plain View Project
The Observer’s Year in Social Media: 2019
Plain View Project
The Observer’s Year in Social Media: 2019
Plain View Project
Facebook posts from current and former Dallas Police Department officers
Facebook posts from current and former Dallas Police Department officers
Plain View Project

5. Texas GOP circles up, starts shooting — Following a pair of mass shootings in El Paso and Midland-Odessa, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick went a little rogue on gun rights, declaring his support for universal background checks on gun purchases. This caused Michael Quinn Sullivan, Texas conservative provocateur, to come after Patrick on Twitter. Patrick fired back at Sullivan about his surreptitious recording of a meeting with Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen. Dirty laundry, as long as it's not your own, is even better when it's aired in public.

6. Jonathan Stickland keeps it up on Twitter — Jonathan Stickland, the Observer's favorite high school dropout turned pest control salesman turned Texas House member, is retiring. And that's too bad. Even though he won't be starring in Austin anymore, the Mid-Cities representative proved in September that he'll still be a fun follow on social media, when he called vaccines "witchcraft" during a rant.

7. Team Cornyn picks a fight with Patton Oswalt — Shortly after former U.S. House candidate and Air Force helicopter pilot MJ Hegar became the first Democrat to officially join the race to unseat U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, Cornyn's social media team decided to post a bunch of tweets from one of Hegar's celebrity endorsers, comedian Patton Oswalt.

Oswalt is bad, apparently, because he swears.

We're waiting for some similar posts about the president.

8. Texas Republicans get into it with Facebook — Way back in March, Texas Republicans threw a fit because they felt their Facebook ad promoting Texas' "born-alive protection act," a then-bill now-law that requires doctors to give a baby born during an attempted abortion the same care they would give any other person in a similar situation, was being unfairly penalized by the site.

As it turned out, Facebook was penalizing the ad, as a spokesman told the Observer, because it was "engagement bait," not for its content.

9. Eric Johnson reminds us that mayors are people, too — Pity Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson. He's been suffering for years, years, with boots that don't fit.

Let no one say the mayor of Dallas doesn't have any pull. 

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