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Emergency #PresidentialAlert quickly becomes a meme

October 3, 2018

There was a warning for the warning — weeks ago — and then came the warning itself. Still, it surprised many when the words, “Presidential Alert,” popped up on their phone at exactly 2:18 p.m., along with the sound of emergency alarms sounding throughout offices, supermarkets, schools and every pocket with a cellphone.

“THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed”

It lasted about five seconds, and then the Internet did what the Internet does best in 2018.

It meme’d.

It wasn’t long before #PresidentialAlert was trending and photoshopped screenshots of the alert started wracking up the retweets.

“When James K. Polk sent out Presidential Alerts he’d personally bang on each on log cabin with his cane,” Tweeted Matt Lesser, a Democratic candidate for state Senate in Middletown.

Corporations, non-profits and sports teams got in on the action.

“This is not a test. #PresidentialAlert,” The New York Mets tweeted, along with a photo that said, “Presidential Alert: Jacob deGrom is the best pitcher in Baseball.”

The jokes about the emergency being that the president himself is in office were endless, as were jokes about the ongoing FBI investigation into Brett Kavanaugh. Some said the alert system should be used to send out voter registration information, and many expressed concern the president would abuse the system even though he is not the one who actually sends the alerts.

And for some who didn’t receive the alert at all, it was a relief.

“I literally have still not gotten the #PresidentialAlert. I didn’t know getting ghosted could ever make me this happy,” Tweeted Ziad Ahmed, a sophomore at Yale.

When the memes dissipated, the more sobering commentary began.

Edward Snowden, the former CIA-employee who leaked confidential information about the National Security Agency, posted, “All our lives dangle at the end of a wire. Ask yourself: who controls it? How else might it be used? #PresidentialAlert,”

He followed that with a reminder: “The same centralized infrastructure that lets them send something to everyone enables them to read anything from anyone.”

The alert itself was a serious test of a new emergency alert system that marked the first time that emergency management officials have used the nationwide alerting capabilities reserved for the office of the president. Blasted out by cell towers nationwide over a 30-minute period, the message was expected to reach some 225 million people in an unprecedented federal exercise.

The presidential alert is designed to let the White House inform the entire country almost instantly of grave public emergencies, such as a terrorist attack or an invasion, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

kkrasselt@hearstmediact.com; 203-842-2563; @kaitlynkrasselt

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