Florida Man is shorthand for the headlines and videos that come out of the state, showing people (but mostly men) engaging in dumb or outlandish crimes. One of the most widely cited headlines is from 2016: “Florida man threw live gator in Wendy’s drive-thru window, police say.”
The Florida Man Twitter account, created in 2013, showcased many of these wild headlines. The account was retired in 2019. Shortly after retiring the account, creator Freddie Campion told the Washington Post he did so because the Florida Man meme had become a little too mean-spirited.
Florida Man memes
References to “Florida Man” in newspaper headlines go back centuries. But its rise in popularity online coincided with a horrific incident.
In May 2012, Rudy Eugene attacked Ronald Poppo on Miami’s MacArthur Causeway. Poppo, a homeless man, miraculously survived the attack, in which Eugene ripped off 75 percent of Poppo’s face.
Eugene was killed by police at the scene, and became known as the “Causeway cannibal” and “Miami zombie.” People speculated he’d consumed bath salts, though that did not show up in a toxicology report. This is around the time the term “Florida Man” started to surge in popularity on the internet.
In 2013, it took off as a meme, around the same time as now-cringe trends like epic bacon and Grumpy Cat. Florida Man memes largely consist of clickbait headlines that focus on the most bizarre parts of the crimes or incidents.
The Florida Man Twitter account was a big source of these memes, which would often include accompanying mugshots. It posted about now-jailed zookeeper Joe Exotic two years before Tiger King went viral.
A more recent meme involves typing your birthday and “Florida man” into Google and seeing what headlines pops up for that day.
Donald Trump meme
In 2019, then-President Donald Trump changed his residence to Florida, and the term was applied to him. The Daily Show helpfully created a browser extension that automatically changed Trump’s name in headlines to Florida Man.
When Trump announced he was running for president again, the New York Post bumped it to the bottom of the front page, and titled it: “Florida Man Makes Announcement.”
Why are there so many Florida Man stories?
In 1967, Florida passed the Sunshine Law, which allows the right to access info on public meetings or government proceedings. It also opened up the state’s public records law, so news of local arrests can be easily accessed and reported on.
Other states also have open records laws like Florida, so this isn’t the main reason Florida Man came to be. Florida’s reputation as state where weird stuff historically happens is more likely the origin.
But the issue with what the meme became isn’t just clickbait headlines. Many of the people who go viral in these headlines are addicts, unhoused, or in the midst of a mental health crisis. And Florida has massively failed its residents when it comes to mental health and addiction support.