Internet FAIL: The truth About That Tea Party Sorority Girl You Saw On Facebook – Alabama Live
You might have seen the picture on the Internet. Depending on your political leanings, you might have even shared it.
As the story goes, a sorority girl at the University of Alabama, in some sort of political fit, scribbled a barely literate screed on the back of a pizza box. Amid the debris of a college dorm room, the young woman grits her teeth and scrunches her face as she holds up her homemade sign. A freshly used Sharpie is still between her fingers.
The pizza box says, “A VILLAGE SOMEWHERE IN KENIA IS MISSING THERE IDIOT!! NOBAMA 2012.”
For many, the meme was too delicious not to believe and share. It has gone viral on Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook. It even made the FAIL blog. And everywhere it goes, a legion of trolls follows, bloviating about that illiterate trailer trash from Alabama and all the nasty, unrepeatable things that should happen to her.
But there’s one problem – nothing about the story is true.
Actually, that’s not quite accurate, either. She did scribble the sign on the back of a pizza box.
Here is what actually happened.
Her name is Kim Stafford. And far from being from Alabama, she grew up in Boston.
She’s not in a sorority. The liberal arts university she attends in western Massachusetts doesn’t even have a Greek system. (For this interview she asked not to disclose which college she attends because of the threats she’s received since the photograph went viral).
And come November she intends to vote for President Barack Obama.
Ever since Stafford saw discrimination against a Middle Eastern merchant in her Boston neighborhood when she as a kid, she has had an interest in politics, she says. She’s a registered Democrat, but she doesn’t shy from the political right.
“I have been to Tea Party rallies, and I’m the first person to tell you that not all people in the Tea Party are nuts,” she said. “I’ve talked to some extremely intelligent, well informed people. But let’s face it. When anyone mentions the Tea Party, people think of the extremists.”
Starting her freshman year, she was invited to her first college party. It had a theme – the Boston Tea Party. In a rush to put together a costume, she thought she’d be clever. She Googled “Tea Party signs.” She saw one that inspired her scrawling on the pizza box, although she says that the grammar on the original sign was correct. The misspellings were her idea to make sure no one thought she was serious.
She showed the sign to her roommate, who took a picture and later put it on her Facebook page.
The party was on a Saturday, she says. On Sunday morning she got a message on Facebook from a friend she hadn’t seen in two years. Her friend told her that she had found a picture of her on Tumblr, a blogging platform and social media site.
“At first I didn’t know what she was talking about, and I was excited, because who doesn’t want to be Internet famous?” she said. “And then you figure out why you are Internet famous.”
A friend of her roommate had seen the picture on Facebook and posted it on Tumblr. One of the features of Tumblr is that any user can “reblog” something they’ve found on another Tumblr blog. And lots of people reblogged it. And “liked” it. And retweeted it.
On the Internet, people tried to extrapolate everything that they could from the picture. They said what a messy room she had. (Like any college student, she’s very defensive about that, from the Dr. Pepper bottle she says she was going to recycle to the slip she was letting air dry on the back of a chair.) A few even deduced that she was a Dr. Who fan from the Adipose stress ball she had on her desk.
And what they couldn’t infer from the photo, they made up – even guessing where she went to school.
By the time Stafford realized what was happening, the meme had spread beyond anything she could control.
But she tried anyway. Stafford started her own Tumblr blog, which she used to refute the things that were being said about her.
Having taken six years of Latin, she’s something of a grammar snob. Many of the commenters online were saying that she was using “there” instead of “their.”
Both are wrong.
“But it shouldn’t be ‘their,’” she said.” It should be ‘its’ without an apostrophe because ‘village’ is singular.”
And people said awful things. They said she should be raped. They said she should kill herself.
“With the Internet, no one cares,” she said. “People are cruel on the Internet because they can get away with it.”
Still, she persisted. At first she spent hours every night trying to counter the things strangers were saying about her. But Stafford says she must focus on her school work or she could lose her merit scholarship.
The hardest part, she said, was that most of the people who were attacking her were of her same political persuasion.
Finally, her boyfriend asked her how many crazy people there could be in the world.
“About half,” she said.
Then he asked how many people could be Republicans or Democrats.
“About half,” she said.
And then he said, “OK, not all of them can be in the Republican Party.”
Then she realized that there are extremists of all political stripes in the world.
“The party I’m a part of because I’m tolerant and I think that homosexuals should be able to get married – the group of people that I associate with – can be just as cruel as the people I disagree with,” she said.
And she’s learned not to trust what she sees on the web, especially when it’s something embarrassing for a stranger. When she sees something that might have tempted her to click “share,” she lets it be.
But there was still one thing left to surprise her – when she learned this week that people on the Internet thought she was from Alabama.
“That’s about as far away from here as you can get,” she said.
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