The Social Media Fast

On March 9th, I decided to say “¡No más!” to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for a while. In recent weeks, I had received a sustained series of obsessive messages, both public and private, from crazed strangers whom I had never met or barely knew. One such fervid crusader was a feverish cartoonist who had spent hours of her life tweeting about me because I had written a paragraph in 2003 that essentially amounted to “I don’t like your McSweeney’s article.” None of this squared up with the joy and positivism that I was receiving from people in my real life. It was incredibly weird to go from a volunteering stint in which I had made people in need very happy, only to log onto one of the social networks to discover people pining for my demise or engaging in microaggresions or simply dehumanizing me because I fit their bill of a sinister Snidely Whiplash.

It finally dawned on me that I experienced nothing even remotely close to such casual malevolence in my day-to-day adventures, where friends and acquaintances and workmates laughed over bons mots that the digital pitchfork crowd perceived as baleful tells. Beyond all this, perhaps the most substantial reason for this virtual fast was my need to focus on some quite tricky scripts that I’m now writing for The Gray Area‘s second season, along with a few other pastimes. Abandoning the “essential” platforms was also a way of putting the kibosh on a pervasive nastiness that I felt and responded to with considerable and excessive emotion. It’s quite possible that I have a personality perfectly warm and gushing and endearingly oddball for reality, yet apparently incompatible with the cartoonish assumptions engendered through social media.

Whatever the case, I decided to cut the cord. I deleted the appurtenant apps on my phone and resolved not to check anything. I would never know if something I posted had been liked or favorited. For all I know, there are direct messages awaiting me right now on these poisonous online poppy fields. The funny thing about all this was that I was such a prolific presence on these channels that three friends texted me to ask if I was okay. I had managed to connect more by disconnecting.

I can safely report that I am considerably calmer and much happier. I suffer neither fools nor FOMO. I have still been able to follow the news, digging up newly appointed CIA director Gina Haspel’s sordid past as a black site torturer and developments pertaining to a potential Stormy Daniels interview on 60 Minutes — all this without using Twitter. I find myself less stressed, more smartly informed, and more willing to be true to who I am. The early days did admittedly involve some modest dopamine shakes, but I responded by reading books, cooking nice and elaborate meals for myself, engaging in self-care, and keeping in touch with friends on a more regular basis. Not by text, but with phone calls. We often forget that human emotion stretches itself across a far more promising tapestry if you take the time to know a voice or a face or a soul. Phone calls and real world hangout sessions are vastly richer experiences than the half-hearted texts that digital jockeys bang into their phones while sprinting off somewhere and asking themselves later why they are so frequently disappointed.

The problem with wearing your emotional candor on your sleeve or being big and vulnerable enough to tell others how you feel is that anything you say in a small text box is immediately dismembered and distorted from its original intent. If anything I had written on social media had been uttered in person, the other person and I would have likely laughed it off over a few pints. But because my messages had been delivered through a Pringles-like canister honed for circular reasoning, my words became deliberately misinterpreted and used by a few otherwise smart people to harbor fierce enmity. Undoubtedly, the fault is mine in some way. I am not the type to avoid expressing his mind and his heart. Moreover, I have certainly judged people unfairly based on what I think I know about their worst qualities on social media. And I have often been wrong, especially after I met them. Even so, it seems to me especially banal to hurl one’s line into a lake that rewards only those who catch fish through the same tried and true methods. These days, the latitude for “offense” has thinned quite considerably. Due process has been replaced by character references from dodgy strangers clenching their fists in a basement and somehow landing book deals for their superficial insights even as they take no real chances in how they express themselves or know other people.

People who are easily offended are quite funny. The bar for expressive delinquency has dropped so low that some folks are willing to engage in sustained jihads over disputes that are actually pregnant with communicative possibility. I’ve seen the thoughts that cause people to get hopped up and I am often quite baffled. On any given day, I have heard far worse statements uttered by people in my neighborhood in a jocular context. I’d never think of ostracizing a regular mischief maker who I run into at least twice a week and who cried out to me only a week and a half ago, “Hey, you bald motherfucker, how the fuck are you doing?” The sheer enthusiasm he applies to this sentiment is not only hilarious and admirably magical, but has allowed for some witty repartee that has amused passing bystanders. (Incidentally, he followed up his “profane” statement with a big hug.)

The upshot is that judging another person by who they appear to be online does not do justice to his beauty, his magnanimity, and his possibility. And even though we must allow other people to judge, even when they are wrong, the whole point of listening to other perspectives is to have one’s worldview expanded rather than flattened. Why then do we erect walls? Fear perhaps. A sense that someone who jolts our established notions may be telling a grim truth we don’t want to hear. But the barrier is no different from the border wall Trump hopes to build. Walls are built to memorialize xenophobia. The wall builders clearly aren’t motivated to understand another perspective, much less trying to change it. They are predictably afraid and predictably shallow. At a certain point, a grudge that one holds against someone isn’t so much about the other person’s allegedly ill repute, but about the personality flaws inherent in the grudge holder. The way I see it, you have about seven years to hold a grudge. And, even then, the grudge should be reserved for something significant — like, say, someone who stole your lover or murdered a family member or who ruined a good friend’s painstakingly assembled fortune.

I’ll probably be back on social media eventually. For now, I’m enjoying this extended period of slowing down, sitting with people, chatting with friends and strangers, focusing on my thoughts, and realizing how the digital world, despite all the relentless backslapping by techbros, is one of the most preposterous reputational metrics ever devised by humanity.

Josh Ostrovsky, Plagiarist: His Lies to Katie Couric and His Serial Instagram Thefts

“You gotta understand. The Internet is like a giant, weird orgy where like everything gets shared. A lot of people are using stuff that I make. And every time that I make a photo and I put it out there, it gets reblogged on a million sites, and I would never put my name on it. ‘Cause we’re like all in this giant — it’s kind of like we’re all on ecstasy at a giant rave.” — Josh Ostrovsky, after being asked by Katie Couric about his plagiarism

Josh Ostrovsky is an unremarkable man who has built up a remarkable fan base of 5.7 million Instagram users by stealing photos from other sources without attribution under the handle The Fat Jew, claiming the witticisms as his own, and turning these casual and often quite indolent thefts into a lucrative comedy career. His serial plagiarism, which makes Carlos Mencia look like an easily ignored bumbling purse snatcher, has understandably attracted the ire of many comedians, including Patton Oswalt, Kumail Nanjiani, and Michael Ian Black. The ample-gutted Ostrovsky transformed his gutless thieving into a deal with Comedy Central (since cancelled by the comedy network), CAA representation, and even a book deal. Ostrovsky is an unimaginative and talentless man who believed he could get away with this. And why not? The unquestioning press fawned over the Fat Jew at every opportunity, propping this false god up based on his numbers rather than his content. While the tide has turned against Ostrovsky in recent days, the real question that any self-respecting comedy fan needs to ask is whether they can stomach supporting a big fat thief who won’t cut down on his rapacious stealing anytime soon.

Ostrovosky’s lifting has already received several helpful examinations, including this collection from Kevin Kelly on Storify and an assemblage from Death and Taxes‘s Maura Quint. But in understanding how a figure like Ostrovsky infiltrates the entertainment world, it’s important to understand that, much like serial plagiarists Jonah Lehrer and Q.R. Markham, Ostrovsky could not refrain from his pathological need for attention.

After a two day investigation, Reluctant Habits has learned that every single Instagram post that Ostrovosky has ever put up appears to have been stolen from other people. His work, his lies, and his claims were not checked out by ostensible journalists, much less corporations like Burger King hiring this man to participate in commercials and product placement that he was compensated for by as much as $2,500 a pop.

In an interview with Katie Couric earlier this year, Ostrovsky offered some outright whoppers. Ostrovsky, who claimed to be “such a giver,” presented himself as a benign funnyman who said that “it’s just my gift” to find photos and apply captions to them. Tellingly, Ostrovsky declared, “It’s the only thing I can do in this world.”

“A lot of stuff I actually make myself,” said Ostrovsky. “Like sometimes if you see a tweet from like DMX, you know, or some kind of hardcore rapper being like, ‘About to go antiquing upstate,’ like ‘I’m refinishing Dutch furniture,’ like he probably didn’t write that. I Photoshopped that.”

Actually, the sentiment that Ostrovsky ascribed to DMX (assuming he didn’t pluck the image from another source) on April 14, 2015 (“YEAH SEX IS COOL BUT HAVE YOU EVER HAD GARLIC BREAD”) had actually been circulating on the Internet years before this. It started making the rounds on Twitter in November 2013 and appears to have been plucked from a now deleted Tumblr called whoredidthepartygo. This tagline theft is indicative of Ostrovsky’s style: take a sentence that many others have widely tweeted, reapply it in a new context, and hope that nobody notices.

The Couric interview also contained this astonishing prevarication:

Couric: I like Hillbilly too. You took half-Hillary, half-Bill Clinton.

Ostrovsky: Yup. A friend of mine actually made that and like just really exploded my brain into like a thousand pieces.

If this is really true, then why did Ostrovsky wait four years to share his “friend”‘s labor? Especially since it had “exploded his brain into like a thousand pieces.” After all, doesn’t a giver like Ostrovsky want to act swiftly upon his “generosity”? The Hillbilly pic was posted to Ostrovsky’s Instagram account on January 7, 2015.

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But this image was cropped from another image that was circulating around 2011 — nearly four years before. If Ostrovsky’s “friend” gave the Hillbilly photo to him, then why was it cropped, with the telltale link to demotivatingposters.com (a now defunct link) elided?

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Reluctant Habits has examined Ostrovsky’s ten most recent Instagram posts. Not only are all of his images stolen from other people, but Ostrovsky often did not bother to change the original image he grabbed. In some cases, it appears that Ostrovsky simply took a screenshot from Twitter, often cropping out the identifying details.

For the purposes of this search, I have confined my analysis to any photo that Ostrovsky uploaded with a tagline. As the evidence will soon demonstrate, not only is Ostrovsky incapable of writing an original tag, but he appears to have never written a single original sentence in any of his Instagram captions.

I have included links to Ostrovsky’s Instagrams and the original tweets. But I have also taken screenshots in the event that either Ostrovsky or his originators remove their tweets.

OSTROVSKY INSTAGRAM 1: August 16, 2015.

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SOURCES OF PLAGIARISM:

As if to exonerate himself from the theft, Ostrovsky’s Instagram post included a callback to Instagram user @pistolschurman, who posted it onto Instagram that same day. One begins to see Ostovsky’s pattern of behavior: bottom-feed from a bottom-feeder.

But the image had already been widely distributed on Twitter with the tagline, “The international symbol for ‘what the hell is this guy doing?’,” “The international symbol for ‘what the hell is this douchebag doing?,” and “The international symbol for what the fuck is this nigga doing?'” But have traced its first use on Twitter to Betto Biscaia on August 10, 2014:

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OSTROVSKY INSTAGRAM 2: August 16, 2015.

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SOURCE OF PLAGIARISM:

On August 16, 2015, the user @tank.sinatra posted this to Instagram, failing to acknowledge the original source. Ostrovsky linked to @tank.sinatra.

This was first tweeted by user @GetTheFuzzOut on August 14, 2015.

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OSTROVSKY INSTAGRAM 3: August 14, 2015

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SOURCES OF PLAGIARISM: While it appears that Ostrovsky or one of his minions may have typed the sentiment upon a new image, a Google Image Search shows that this sentence has been widely attached to photo memes. The first use of the joke on Twitter appears to originate from @TinyCodeEye on March 11, 2015.

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OSTROVSKY INSTAGRAM 4: August 14, 2015

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SOURCES OF PLAGIARISM: This has been a long-running tagline/photo combo, but Ostrovsky didn’t even bother to swap the font for this photo. The tagline appears to have been added to the photo for the first time by user @ViralStation on July 17, 2015:

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In other words, Ostrovsky was so slothful in his theft that he couldn’t even be bothered to generate a new image.

As for the tagline context itself, I have traced its first use on Twitter to hip-hop artist EM3 on July 14, 2015:

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I have reached out to EM3 on Twitter, asking if he was the first person to take this photo. He responded that he did not take the photo, but that he plucked it from eBay. (The latter response may have been facetious.) What EM3 may not know is that his quip was stolen by Ostrovsky and monetized for Ostrovsky’s gain.

OSTROVSKY INSTAGRAM 5: August 14, 2015

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SOURCES OF PLAGIARISM: The joke was first tweeted by Andrew Grant on July 24, 2015.

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But Grant, in turn, stole the joke from a Reddit thread initiated by user youstinkbitch on July 10, 2015.

OSTROVSKY INSTAGRAM 6: August 14, 2015

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SOURCES OF PLAGIARISM: The photo/tag combo appears to originate with user @FUCKJERRY, who tweeted this on July 2, 2015.

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OSTROVSKY INSTAGRAM 7: August 14, 2015

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SOURCES OF PLAGIARISM: This was among the oldest tags I discovered and quite indicative of the desperate thieving that Ostrovsky practices. It appears to originate from Alex Moran, who tweeted it on July 17, 2014.

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I have reached out to Mr. Moran to ask him if he was the person who snapped the photo. He has not responded.

OSTROVSKY INSTAGRAM 8: August 13, 2015

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SOURCE OF PLAGIARISM: This was first tweeted by user @natrosity on November 5, 2014.

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OSTROVSKY INSTAGRAM 9: August 13, 2015

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SOURCE OF PLAGIARISM: This joke has become so widely circulated that only the world’s worst hack would use it. Ostrovsky thinks so little of his audience that he’s circulating a joke that’s been around since at least August 2012, when it first started appearing Tumblr. The first Twitter link to this is from August 2, 2012:

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OSTROVSKY INSTAGRAM 10: August 13, 2015

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SOURCE OF PLAGIARISM: The source of this appears to come from a now-defunct Tumblr called Luxury-andFashion. The earliest mention on Twitter appears to be on November 12, 2014 — a link to its Tumblr distribution.