If you’re on Instagram chances are that you’ve seen, or even follow, the popular account @fuckjerry. It was started by Elliot Tebele, a 27-year-old self-described “meme curator.” With over 14 million followers, it has become one of the more well-subscribed meme accounts on Instagram. Tebele has parlayed his huge following into an advertising company, Jerry Media (who now run the account), his own tequila brand, JAJA Tequila, and a card game called What Do You Meme? in the style of Cards Against Humanity.
How did Tebele achieve all this? Through unbridled plagiarism and theft of intellectual property. By cropping out watermarks and reposting memes without giving proper credit, Tebele and his talentless cohorts take the creativity and ideas of others, pass it off as their own, and get paid for it. (In cases where the name and handle of the originator is left visible, Jerry Media don’t bother to ask for permission to repost. They simply steal.)
Jerry Media is able to charge as much as $30,000 for sponsored posts on their IG page, using memes created by other people — actually funny people — who get no credit, and never see a dime of Tebele’s profits, according to several news reports.
But The People have finally had enough. Enter #FuckFuckJerry: a Twitter hashtag representing a groundswell of comedians and creatives who have finally had enough and started calling out Tebele and his thieving cohorts for their scam.
The people who’ve chimed in using this hashtag are simply too many to name, but some of the more well-known participants include comics Patton Oswalt and John Mulaney, actor Colin Hanks, comedian Mike Birbiglia, and the comedy co-op AllThingsComedy, founded by stand-up comics Bill Burr and Al Madrigal.
Tons of lesser known, but talented and hilarious writers and comedians have joined in, many with their own examples of how FuckJerry stole their content and disregarded their attempts to receive credit or have it taken down. In the video embedded below, Vic Berger shows us what happened to him when he called out the Chief Content Officer at Jerry Media for stealing his joke.
I’m writing about this because I love comedy and I hate plagiarists, and because the #FuckFuckJerry movement is long overdue. These scumbag joke thieves have received media scrutiny in the past, most notably Josh Ostrovsky, also known as “The Fat Jew”, back in 2015. But they’re still going strong, unfortunately. This time seems a little different, however.
It seems to me it’s partly due to the prominence of those piling on Tebele and his ilk, and because many of the big-name participants urge others to #UnfollowFuckJerry. It has had a palpable effect: in just a few days @fuckjerry’s follower count has fallen by over 400,000.
A lot of the credit should go to Megh Wright, comedy editor at Splitsider and Vulture. She wrote about Ostrovsky back in 2015 and got the #FuckFuckJerry hashtag going by asking famous people on Twitter to join in. In her Vulture article she talks about Comedy Central even paying for advertisements on @fuckjerry despite having worked with comedians whose content he stole.
It had an impact: CC pulled all ads from @fuckjerry and a spokesperson said they have no plans to advertise with them in the future.
I have a small background in journalism, a world where plagiarism can end your career and tarnish your name forever. I studied with talented people who were far better writers and photographers than me, reporters who are part of the next generation of great journalists. We all share a revulsion to plagiarism because we study and understand the impact it has on our field. But unfortunately a ton of us follow accounts like @fuckjerry, @thefatjewish, @betches and the innumerable others that make money by plagiarising the creativity and content of other people who have infinitely more talent. I think we should follow those who actually come up with this funny content, not those who steal it.
In the wake of this latest groundswell, Jerry Media has tried to apologize. It went about as badly as you can imagine, with them trying to pretend like they didn’t understand what they did was wrong. It’s too litte, too late, and it reads like they’re just upset about being called out on a bigger scale this time.
If you do follow these accounts, but dislike plagiarism and theft, you should let an uncomfortable cognitive dissonance slosh around your mind for a few minutes, and then unfollow them. Their value is based on followers. We can devalue them by revoking our implicit support. I suggest you do it.
To end this: My favorite tweet summing up this whole debacle.