On Tuesday, Rick Perry—the longest-tenured governor in Texas history and current United States secretary of energy—reposted a meme on his official Instagram account. It was a hoax, the kind that’s existed in one form or another on the internet since not long after Perry switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican back in 1989. This one, a wall of text copied from elsewhere, had been spreading across the platform for days before Perry found it. It purported to be a statement that a person could post to their account that would deny Instagram the right to “use your photos,” something that had been reported, according to the copy/pasted message, on “Channel 13 News,” concluding with a block of official-sounding legalistic gibberish. In the image shared by the secretary, the word “Instagram” appears in a different typeface than the rest of the message, which—if the general incoherence of the message weren’t enough—should have probably tipped him off that there was something not quite right about the whole thing. The text of the message even compels people to respond in the same way, declaring, “It costs nothing to copy and paste, better safe than sorry.” And so Rick Perry did.
He wasn’t the only one to do so. Tom Holland, Judd Apatow, Julianne Moore, Julia Roberts, Pink, Taraji P. Henson, Debra Messing, T.I., Wacka Flocka Flame, Tina “Beyoncé’s mom” Knowles, Usher, Rita Wilson, and more all reposted it, as did countless non-famous Instagram users, who saw it shared by people they trust and admire. Of course, none of them oversees our nation’s nuclear arsenal (though Tom Holland may be responsible for E.D.I.T.H.), which makes Perry’s blunder more serious.
The secretary of energy got snookered by a pretty obvious hoax, and one that’s been around for a long time. Fact-checking website Snopes debunked a similar one that used almost identical language back in 2012. Back in the AOL days of the internet, chain letters declared that the United States Postal Service would be charging a five-cent surcharge on email—a hoax that was so prevalent in the late 1990s that Hillary Clinton was asked her opinion about “Federal Bill 602P,” which did not exist, during a 2000 Senate debate. (Clinton responded, “I have no idea.”)
Perry is hardly the first Texas political figure to squander credibility by sharing an internet hoax. Governor Greg Abbott has a history of swallowing hoaxes—from fake Churchill quotes to fake Jerry Jones quotes to, more seriously, Jade Helm. The staff of agriculture commissioner Sid Miller, whose social media presence is a mess of memes and hoaxes, told reporters last year, “We post hundreds of things a week” and “We put stuff out there” by way of explanation. Of course, both Abbott and Miller won re-election last fall by 13 and 5 percentage points, respectively, so the cost of burnt credibility might ultimately be minimal.
Which means that, in the end, this might just be another example of Rick Perry getting made fun of in the media—a position he has been in at least three times in the past, from his country-rap campaign song to his twelfth-place cha-cha routine on Dancing with the Stars to the time he, uh, um… what’s the third one there? Oops. Those things might have blunted his political ambitions, but he’s still the secretary of energy, so he’s doing fine. As far as we know, there hasn’t been a nuclear detonation or a warhead falling into the wrong hands, so we’ll assume—despite his propensity to fall for viral hoaxes online—that we’re all doing okay, too. Right?