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The Florida Man And The Sunshine Law

How the “Florida Man,” meme connects to the way the state shares it’s official data.

Credit: Pixabay, Tampa Bay Times, The Smoking Gun

For the past ten years, Florida has been a journalist’s dream. The state is seemingly filled with obscene and absurd acts of crime. There seems to be a crazy story coming out of there every day. If you type in “Florida man” and any date of the year, you’re sure to find something that’ll make you either smile or cringe.

This trend has emerged and remerged since 2013 and doesn’t seem to want to die. So much so that the dedicated subreddit “Florida man!” has reached 756K members and continues to grow. These stories have become so popular that the “Florida man” himself has become an archetype. An almost mythical, chaotic character. From the drunk Florida man who drove his lawnmower down a major road. To the Florida man arrested after telling a playground of kids where babies come from, he has seen and done it all.

But why has Florida become the capital for these types of stories? The answer has something to do with the state’s interesting Sunshine Law.

Credit: The Infographics Show

The Sunshine Law

The state passed the government sunshine law in 1967, making all state meetings open to the public. Any actions not available to the people are not binding in the eyes of the authority. This enactment was a continuation of Florida’s history of an open government since 1909. This openness makes Florida a journalist’s playground. Accessing government documents is free and much faster than in many other states. Arrest records, for example, are available almost immediately after they are filed. All a journalist in Florida must do is request the arrest records of the day and find an entertaining story. Florida being the third largest state, with a large and diverse population, ensures that someone somewhere is up to something entertaining. Florida also has a rich drug trafficking history. The state has often been used as way to avoid smuggling through the southern border. This presumably would add a little fuel to the fire.

The term Florida Man comes from journalistic style. Writers tend to substitute the names of the subjects within their articles for something vague. The choice of “Florida Man” gives the internet a catchy way to group these insane stories together. Once users of Reddit realized this, they pounced on the opportunity to post these stories, and “Florida man’s” popularity skyrocketed.

Consequences of the Sunshine Law

The arrival of the “Florida Man” has brought an unfair reputation to the sunshine state. The Annual Uniform Crime Report reported a 14% decrease in crime between 2020 and 2021. It seems that journalists are abusing the openness of Florida’s government. How would it be different if, say, Alabama or Kentucky had the same laws surrounding data? Journalists in Florida have found an easy target for entertainment with the “Florida Man” stories. We must also think of the ethics of these stories. Journalists are potentially mocking those with mental health issues. People who need help rather than mockery.

Maybe it’s time to retire the “Florida Man,” and encourage other states to adopt a Sunshine Law. Though admittedly, we would have to find a replacement for stories like, “Florida Man threatens to destroy everybody with an army of turtles.”

Click here for an article explaining how the difference between memes and reality is blurred.

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