If I May: Unfollow f***jerry – Part 1

If you follow the Instagram account @fuckjerry, you may have noticed something new in their bio section: “Updated content policy [below],” and then a link to a statement from the account’s creator, Elliot Tebele. In this statement, Tebele explains that from now on, in order for him to post something on the @fuckjerry account, he must be able to identify the original creator and obtain advanced consent from them.

Additionally, on a few of their recent posts, they included this disclaimer: “You’ll notice the post above has both credit and consent from the creator. Effective immediately, @fuckjerry, and our affiliated accounts, will adhere to this content policy. We also welcome submissions [heart emoji].” They have since removed the disclaimer from the posts, but have kept a note of “credit and consent from [insert creator here].”

These decisions have been made in response to a movement on Twitter to unfollow the @fuckjerry account, as well as other “affiliated accounts” such as @beigecardican and @pizza. Started by Vulture comedy editor Megh Wright and coined “#fuckfuckjerry” by comedian Judah Friedlander, the movement aimed to call attention to the fact that the @fuckjerry accounts steal nearly all of their content from creators. The bread and butter of @fuckjerry is posting a screenshot of someone else’s tweet, sometimes including their handle in the screenshot, and then adding their own caption. The people behind these accounts — mainly Elliot Tebele, but also people like Chief Content Officer James Ryan Ohlinger, who runs the account @krispyshorts — would like us to believe that they are “curating” this content. One can’t own a meme, they would argue. To these creators, memes are supposed to go viral by being reposted.

While this may be true, the problem is that Tebele and his team have turned @fuckjerry into an incredibly powerful marketing agency. They are not just reposting these jokes for fun, as you or I might do on our Instagram stories. Rather, they are selling posts containing stolen content to corporations like Burger King, Bumble and DirecTV for up to $75,000 per post. Additionally, they use the platform to sell their own tequila brand, JAJA. Over the past few weeks, as this movement has gained traction, Wright has reached out to and been contacted by many comedians who have had their content stolen by @fuckjerry. All of them reported that they had never received a penny for the use of their content, even though @fuckjerry certainly made money off of their original posts. In a now-well-documented incident, a video creator named Vic Berger reached out to Ohlinger (@krispyshorts), asking him to take down a video of Berger’s that Ohlinger had posted without any credit. Ohlinger responded by telling Berger to “shut up.

It doesn’t end here. The account @beigecardigan, run by Tebele’s wife, was created in response to the account @browncardigan calling @fuckjerry out for his content theft. According to @browncardigan directly (in an Instagram caption), after they had called out Tebele, “he took it upon himself to create @beigecardigan, from which he took an old IG account with an existing 50k(ish) followers and then used FJ as the credited account to gain traction … He spends hours and hours of his OWN time trying to ‘crush us’ with our own schtick, all the while blocking and muting anyone who opposes him.”

The problem with all of this is that @fuckjerry’s tactics have completely worked. While the #fuckfuckjerry movement has been considered a success, as some advertisers have pulled out of their partnership with the account, the account’s follower count has only dipped from 14.2 million to 14 million followers. This is certainly something, but it won’t stop them from being able to profit off their theft. Additionally, up until now, the media has only exacerbated the issue. An ABC News article begins with the sentence: “Elliot Tebele makes memes for a living.” To my knowledge, not even Tebele himself has claimed to create many memes, instead trying to argue that his “aggregation” is okay. Yet ABC News still went ahead and published the piece, along with a Nightline video segment. Perhaps even worse was a profile in The New Yorker from October 2018. The subtitle of the article called @fuckjerry’s Instagram empire “the funniest accounts on Instagram.” Here is another passage, verbatim: “They mine the internet for comic gems and broadcast them to their 17 million followers. Together, the two accounts bring in millions of dollars from corporate sponsors like MTV and Burger King, and they’ve spawned an army of associate companies, including an ad agency, a production house and a card game called What Do You Meme?”

Again, the context here is a glorifying New Yorker profile, exalting the genius of these young internet savants. This passage theoretically exposes @fuckjerry’s practices of “mining” the internet for content they can steal, then using that content to make money from advertisements and parlaying that success into further side ventures such as card games. Instead, The New Yorker presented it in a congratulatory way, allowing the behavior to continue. Hopefully, this movement continues to gain traction and leads to the downfall of @fuckjerry. For now, all I can do is encourage everyone to unfollow these accounts and support original content creation.

This is part 1 of a multi-part series on @fuckjerry. Next week, I will tackle the complexities of their involvement in the Fyre festival and the subsequent Netflix documentary.