Twenty years into the future, this article will likely make little sense to anybody who happens to pick it up in an old stack of magazines. Right now, however, I’m willing to bet that any University of South Carolina student on Twitter is familiar with “DrinkingTicket,” the popular Twitter account, garnering almost 80,000 followers, that is – self-proclaimed – South Carolina's “info authority.”
And I’m willing to bet that of those students who know of DrinkingTicket, most of them are also familiar with “French Drinking Ticket,” a parody account that tweets in a French accent and critiques the ethics of the former account. It wears a beret, loves baguettes and likes to “hon hon hon.”
But French Drinking Ticket has become more than just an accented parody account – it has become a vehicle in holding people in power accountable. It has become a critique of our university's underage drinking culture. How did we get here?
During the days preceding Hurricane Florence, Regan Freeman, a pre-law political science student, was bothered that many students in his classes announced that school would be cancelled the following day well before University of South Carolina put out any such statement. It turns out they got their information from a tweet by DrinkingTicket.
Hours passed until Freeman heard anything from Carolina Alert. Later in the afternoon, the university issued a statement that said classes would be cancelled effective 1 p.m. the following day. DrinkingTicket had to delete their previous, inaccurate statement and issue a new one.
This bothered Freeman, and had been bothering him for some time. DrinkingTicket gets its information from a variety of sources, some of them student tips, and it is not uncommon for some of that information to be false – or at least not the whole story. This can lead to misinformation spread on Twitter in the Columbia community.
Alex Waelde is the creator and operator of the DrinkingTicket account. Waelde, a 2015 South Carolina graduate, started the account when he was a student. Along with DrinkingTicket, the 28-year-old is also the marketing director at Cover 3 Bar and The Five Points Saloon, the CEO of Viral College Entertainment, an employee at NAI Avant and an administrator for the Memorial and Fraternity Lots, used for tailgating university football games.
“This is kind of how Alex Waelde lives, inside this weird microcosm of information,” Freeman said of the multiple hats Waelde wears.
So Freeman, annoyed at the misinformation, tweeted a meme from his personal account to DrinkingTicket, and got blocked. After discussing with a few of his friends, who shared his sentiment, they decided on a whim to make a French Drinking Ticket account, parodying the original in the style of the French Elon Musk Twitter account that gained fame earlier this past summer.
His first tweet was “I tweet ze informacion..... I get ze information wrong Honhonhonhonhonhon,” followed by, “I sip ze wine and sell ze codes for ze frat lotz.... honhonhonhonhonhonhonhonhonhonhonhon.”
French Drinking Ticket drew followers quickly. Freeman estimates that the account gained about 2,500 followers within the first week of joining. The account is currently at almost 6,000.
“It’s funny, and I think it’s such an accessible satire because it’s very easy to understand, because that satirical French person is funny,” said Freeman. “You’re able in that ability to just talk in an accent to just kind of speak truth to power, if you will.”
And had Waelde not threatened legal action on Freeman for the account, it’s possible that French Drinking Ticket would have fizzled out quietly within a few weeks. But when Waelde threatened a lawsuit and to get Freeman suspended from school, fans on Twitter rallied behind him.
“So I figured, 15 of my friends are going to laugh at it, and we’re going to move on by two weeks ago. But apparently people really, really stuck with what was going on,” Freeman said. “And I don’t want to believe my tweets were that good, I just think that there was a sort of common known thing about how DrinkingTicket exists, and I think it was a very interesting way to sort of bring attention to that base hypocrisy.”
Instead, it took about a week for Waelde to discover French Drinking Ticket and the account’s owner, and reach out to him through mutual acquaintances. Waelde reached out to friends of Freeman’s in search of his contact information with the intent to ask Freeman to take the account down before he proceeds with legal action and lawsuits for targeted harassment and defamation of character. He said his lawyers were ready to go with the lawsuit, and that he found information about Freeman through his private investigator. He threatened reporting Freeman to student conduct and requesting suspension from school.
Freeman got word of this before being contacted by Waelde. He decided to take to Twitter about the issue.
“He has not reached out to me yet, he was going to try to wait until tomorrow but I figure I would beat him to the punch. Regardless of what happens, he’s attempting to silence dissent and very funny satire and come after my future. That’s cowardly,” Freeman wrote in a tweet. “He’s just mad that USC students and citizens of Columbia agree, DrinkingTicket is bad for the University. It doesn’t verify information, it gets things wrong, it exists to help 18 year olds avoid SLED and drink illegally. He’s mad somebody is calling him on this.”
Freeman also publicly identified himself as the creator of French Drinking Ticket. When he shared all of this on Twitter, a large outcry of support came for the account with the hashtag #IStandWithBaguette.
“I, for one, appreciate that @FrenchTicket doesn’t see news on another website, tweet it 6 hours later and slap a BREAKING tag in front of it,” tweeted Avery Wilks, SC Statehouse Reporter at The State.
Many USC students also showed their support.
“This incident created a completely deserved PR disaster for DrinkingTicket (even though the account is probably too popular to face permanent damage),” said fourth-year political science student Alex Boyd. “Satire is a legitimate form of criticism, no matter how silly it is, and it’s wrong for powerful actors like DrinkingTicket to try to silence that.”
And feelings for DrinkingTicket are often conflicted.
“I think it could be helpful if it wasn’t used for its intended purpose. Tweeting about DUI checkpoints encourages drunk driving and overall irresponsibility,” said second-year public relations student Abigail Braun. “However, since it does have a large Columbia and student following, it is helpful when it tweets about road closures and crimes in the area. It’s a great way to spread news quickly to a large audience.”
Freeman contacted the Office of Student Conduct as well as attorneys he knows personally the next day to get their advice, and they all said the same thing: Waelde has no grounds to sue or expel you for the creation of a parody account.
And in the wake of all of the drama, the jokes and the arguing, the Carolina community is left with a large, looming problem. Freeman was certainly not the first to challenge it, but he was able to shed light on it in a new way, and one that was accessible and translatable to fellow USC students.
“Basically, if you try to silence somebody, it’s going to make the voice even louder, and I think this happened here,” Freeman said. “Here I am, a dumb, dumb, dumb kid, I’m the first one in a long time to push back on DrinkingTicket successfully, which is profound. Which is so profound. Because, again, this was not going to be a crusade. This was never going to be a crusade.”
DrinkingTicket has stated multiple times on Twitter that they discourage drinking and driving, and that they instead only encourage safe drinking practices and sober drivers. Nonetheless, the DrinkingTicket account has frequently tweeted about DUI checkpoints and undercover cops in the past.
“So you have this endemic problem going down in Five Points, right? And here we have what is effectively the social media head of all of this – you know what I’m saying? – who brings the attention to these bars,” Freeman said. “And so to challenge that, in such a dumb way, has been very interesting.”
Underage drinking, or drinking and driving, won’t become hobbies of the past just because of a few tweets in a French accent. However, French Drinking Ticket did become a powerful account in our University of South Carolina bubble of what it looks like to stand up to something that you find problematic, instead of letting yourself sit in that silence. While people may be communicating in memes and appropriated French accents, if that’s what it takes to open a dialogue about the toxic drinking culture interwoven in our universities, then vive la résistance.
Alex Waelde declined comment and his attorneys were reached out to, but did not respond.