In a week where #FloridaManChallenge is trending across social media platforms everywhere, many have begun to wonder what exactly is going on down there in the Sunshine State to provide such a rich variety of strange and bizarre Florida-based news stories.
While the pastime of laughing at oddities from Florida is nothing new — there’s even a well-established subreddit dedicated to the topic, r/floridaman, naturally — many are experiencing the gag for the first time as part of the recent “Florida Man” challenge dominating the internet for the moment. In the challenge, you simply do a Google search for “Florida Man” plus your own birthday to reveal what kind of Florida Man you are. The result is something of a Florida zodiac sign, if you will.
The trend has generated a seemingness endless parade of odd and amusing stories about Florida and its apparently peculiar, not to mention troublemaking, residents. The casual observer might just assume that the state they had always associated with Disney World, spring break, and retirees is actually a wild hodgepodge of syringe smugglers, machete wielders, and child purchasers.
But as it turns out, there’s more going on when it comes to Florida headlines than meets the eye, as The Miami New Times has detailed. Behind so many of the bizarre “Florida Man” headlines that cross your newsfeed is Florida’s Government in Sunshine Act, which is essentially an open-records law that provides public access to government business. This includes not only generally mundane documents like city council meeting minutes, but also headline-friendly tidbits like arrest records and mugshots.
Keep your eyes peeled the next time you’re reading a “Florida Man” story and you are likely to find the phrase “according to arrest records,” a sure-fire indication that the story was picked up by the media and covered using information that is publicly available because of the Government in Sunshine Act.
— josh groban (@joshgroban) March 21, 2019
So while Florida may not actually be the most criminally weird state in the country, it does happen to be one of the most open when it comes to public records. That means that journalists not only in Florida itself, but around the country, and the world, have easy access all the information they need to put together those “Florida Man” stories that have become so ubiquitous.
Because Florida is the third most populous state, it will naturally have slightly more than its share of odd and amusing local headlines, but at the end of the day, the state’s weird and wacky reputation might have more to do with an little known law passed in 1909 than a man burning down his house to kill vampires.