#FuckFuckJerry’s villain was unlikable. The downside to unfollowing was tiny. The entreaties powering the boycott were funny and well-done. Celebrities with major followings got on board. The campaign worked about as well as a campaign like it could.
And here’s what that effect was: @FuckJerry went from 14.3 million followers to 14 million. The larger system of other rip-off accounts appears to be untouched. Comedy Central pulled their ads from the account.
FuckJerry’s creator, Elliot Tebele, responded with a Medium post promising that, going forward, the account would both credit jokes and get “advanced permission” before using material.
And so it was that #FuckFuckJerry ended up in the same boat as #DeleteFacebook, and before that, #DeleteUber: worthy, impassioned protests that have not changed the underlying economic structures.
Sociologists Jennifer Earl and Katrina Kimport have studied the ways that protest tactics and schemes have spread out of political culture and into other spaces, especially entertainment. They coined the phrase “ubiquitous movement practices” to describe how petitions, boycotts, and the like—once tactics used solely for political goals—are now deployed across all kinds of social and cultural concerns from trying to ensure Family Guy remains on the air to trying to get the Postal Service “to issue a Marx Brothers stamp.”
The economic system undergirding the influencer economy—the advertising agencies, marketers, companies—want the FuckJerrys of the world to exist. So do the big platforms, which profit from these accounts’ ability to serve up and accelerate crowd-pleasing memes. The obvious way to target the system is to withhold the currency of the realm, which could be money or attention. And boycotts—even ones that don’t truly disrupt a business—can work because companies are concerned with their reputations.
But many of the recent attempts to reform individuals or platforms have had no organization attached to the boycott. “[T]he ability to use digital tools to rapidly amass large numbers of protesters with a common goal empowers movements,” wrote sociologist Zeynep Tufekci in 2017. “Once this large group is formed, however, it struggles because it has sidestepped some of the traditional tasks of organizing.” Networked protests, as Tufekci calls them, offer new possibilities for creating change, but she has “also seen movement after movement falter because of a lack of organizational depth and experience, of tools or culture for collective decision making, and strategic, long-term action.”
The most effective online campaigners, like Color of Change, have an organizational infrastructure for applying pressure on their targets alongside viral mobilizations.
This is no knock on Wright or the promoters of the various boycotts. They’ve shown there is demand for reform and harnessed the latent anger of creators. Now comes the other part.