Within the discourse of Instagram meme accounts, few have carved a deeper niche than Incellectuals. If you were on the platform throughout the pandemic, the visual of “I ♥ Jokes” might have been burned into your retinas. There seemed to be so many of these accounts at one point, all of them minions to an all-powerful original. Incellectuals is a shitposting conglomerate and now in its fifth iteration, @incellectuals8, it’s come to define esoteric-posting. Organically, the account stylized a form of social media engagement that broke all the rules. It’d post at all times of the day, posting at several different aesthetic angles. The follower could watch the profile grid unravel, taking up the entirety of their timeline, able to respond to a DM in an instant. The account lacked definable personhood. An enigmatic stench began to fester over it. People began to ask, what is this account and how chaotically can it engage with us? And as the curiosity grew, it gained followers dramatically, and even through multiple account suspensions, they’re still able to maintain notoriety with that stupid “I ♥ Jokes” profile picture. Here at Meme Insider, we got the chance to talk to two of the admins at the Incellectuals account, to pick their brains about its growth, engagement, and the chaotic underbelly beneath one of Instagram’s biggest mysteries.
Sitting Down With The Admins Of The @incellectuals Page
The Instagram Incellectuals Interview
Sitting Down With The Admins Of The @incellectuals Page
Q: Hey you two! As an introduction, tell us who you are and what you’d say you're known for online?
Admin 1: Oh, so, I'm an Incellectuals admin, and I'm just known for sh*tposting, I guess. And thirst-traps [laughter].
Admin 2: Yeah. I'm an Incellectuals admin too, and yeah, I just sh*tpost constantly. That's what I do all the time.
Q: Cool, and can you just explain what the account Incellectuals is for anyone unfamiliar?
A2: Incellectuals is a sh*t posting account that steals content from anyone, everyone and sometimes posts some OC content. A lot of the content that we post references itself so anyone who's been following us for a long time, they sort of are in on certain jokes. And anyone who doesn't know what Incellectuals is, some of the jokes could come off as pretty absurd. Yeah, it's basically …
A1: Just confusing or not funny.
A2: Yeah. Confusing. Definitely not funny. But it's basically like a group of friends that sh*tpost together.
A1: I think certain admins do a lot of OC and then others don't. I rarely post OC, if ever. And then other admins do a lot more, but also, I don't ever really know who's posting what for the most part.
A2: Yeah. It's pretty anonymous, even amongst ourselves. We'll share certain things that we post to the group chat and be like, "Haha, this is funny." But no one ever … No one ever really is like, "I posted that."
Q: What was your first experiment with creating a social-media meme page? Was it Incellectuals and what drew you to it?
A2: Yeah maybe we should talk about how it started. Incellectuals started as Meaningful Images Only. We were all in a group chat together. There had been different iterations of the group chat, but the way the group chat started is kind of mysterious. We don't really know how it happened. Someone just put us in a group together. None of us knew each other and then we started Meaningful Images Only. And we don't know why it got so many followers because a lot of what we’d post was just text posts that didn't make any sense and inside jokes that came from the group chat. But maybe it was mysterious to people so they wanted to be in on whatever we were posting about.
Then eventually, Meaningful Images Only got zucced. Then we started Incellectuals and that was sort of like … I don't remember who came up with the name. We were kinda throwing stuff around and one of the admins found the image somewhere.
A1: I wasn't really in the group chat or around when Meaningful Images Only was going on. Yeah, I wasn't even around when Incellectuals first started. I was added to the group chat later but I was a follower and a fan. I guess from a standpoint of someone who wasn't aware of the inner workings or whatever, I was just like, "This is a crazy page. How are they posting so often?” [chuckle] And also just so randomly or whatever. Because there are so many admins it’s able to source from so many different places that one person wouldn't be able to, you know? But I don't know who started it and who did what. I don't really know. I was added later.
A2: I will say that the way Meaningful Images Only happened was a few of us were in a bar and one of the people involved suggested that we start a meme page. And we were like, "Yeah. Why don't we start one right now?" And so one of us started the account while we were hanging out in this bar. We just started posting. And then it just never stopped.
And there was a time, where on Instagram, you could start a chat with yourself, like just your account in one chat. We did that with Meaningful Images Only. Sometimes there’d be 10 people in the Meaningful Images Only DM, and we would just be talking to each other, but no one knew who was who. It’d all be coming from one handle, and we’d do that in DMs with followers too, like once Incellectuals started.
I think that's part of the reason why Incellectuals really blew up, because of that engagement with followers in DMs. We just engaged with followers constantly, in DMs, in comments. There were so many of us that if anyone was ever bored, we'd just go into the DMs and start talking to people. And I think that people liked that mysterious aspect of talking, not knowing if you're talking to one psycho person or 20 people. So I'm sure, on the other end, it felt like talking to a schizophrenic or something. We were very … We engaged a lot.
Q: What year was Meaningful Images Only created and how many admins were running it at that time?
A2: Meaningful Images Only was like 2019.
A1: I got added in March 2020, right before Super Tuesday.
A2: Yeah, Meaningful Images Only was 2019, and then Incellectuals was 2020. At the time of Meaningful Images Only, there were technically 31 admins. You can only add 31 people to a group chat and everyone in that original group chat had the password. By the time Incellectuals was an account, it was totally different people. Some were the same, but it was definitely a different vibe in the group chat. It was still 31 people, technically.
A1: When I was added, it seemed there was more turnover. It was a little more chaotic and things were really ramping up. People got added, and then booted out, and then there was a point in which people outside of the group chat had the password. I think that's when it was building its big main following too, where we were getting really close to up to 50K. There was a lot of chaos, and a lot more people leaving the group, or getting booted, or not engaging, and then new people being added, and blah, blah. Now it's narrowed down to like a core group, but around this time last year, it was crazy.
A2: It was crazy. People were posting selfies. We didn't care about anonymity then, which became sort of an interesting issue for some people because some of the stuff we post is pretty offensive. Like, we’re a mixed group of people, and sometimes when you see an offensive post, you don't know who it came from. It makes people uncomfortable when they don't know who's behind the account. When some admins are posting selfies, then the de facto became the representatives of the page. But, it’s in a good place now. It’s less chaotic. It's the same people and we all trust each other. I don't think anyone gives out the password now.
A1: No. No selfies anymore.
A2: No selfies …
A1: But, when you're at 50K, there's more inclination to post selfies.
A2: Yeah, to like, promote yourself a little bit.
A1: Yeah, I think every admin is different in how concerned they are with anonymity. You're [talking to the other admin] more concerned than I am. I have no issue posting my face up there and tagging myself. However, now that our pages die so quickly, there's really nothing to gain from posting a selfie.
A2: Yeah, I posted selfies too. I’m not above that. But because when we had so many followers, we got high off of it a little bit, which is an interesting experience, because now that we're in this weird “Zen state,” where we keep getting deleted. It’s now pure in a way. Now it's about posting only. Though, the whole “Incellectuals minions” thing is helpful now because the PFP is a recognizable image.
A1: Yeah, and I think that people who are deeply invested in the lore can usually identify when it's us on a new page. Like, "The vibes seem like it's the OG people,” or whatever.
A2: We definitely tend to post a lot of stuff from the archives. We’re lucky because someone outside of the group chat who controversially had the password archived all of Incellectuals 2 and then gave it to us. So we had thousands of posts saved. Because of that person, we're been able to dip back in time with our new posts when we get deleted, which is cool.
Q: What would you say was Incellectual’s reason for success in gaining a following? I know you mentioned constant DM interactions, but anything else?
A2: I have no idea. I think it’s partly because of a lot of admins, and we would all re-share stuff. I don't know. It's probably because of re-sharing, engagement. Other than that, I have no idea, because it's not like Instagram was putting us on the explore page. We were posting like … Vore, and stuff like that [chuckle]. It's crazy that we got so many followers.
A1: I think it was just having well-curated content. We had people who just knew what was funny, or niche, or whatever. Just so many admins who take from everywhere. For instance, I repost a lot from Twitter, but others might be on Reddit. And we also have a few admins who are exceptionally funny and really good at OC content. Just everyone’s good at curating and is extremely online. They’re people who have been super online forever. In that way, I think the growth was organic. We were just random people. We didn’t know each other. It just happened to be a group of people who were …
A2: Really online.
A1: Yeah, and good at.
A2: There's one admin who's very mysterious, very anonymous, and they only post OC, and not very often, maybe once a month, but it's so f**king funny. And that stuff definitely gets re-shared in places. That admin really values anonymity. We’re all just pretty different, and the thing we have in common is that we love sh*tposting [laughter].
Q: Were there any concepts or goals that people wanted to follow or reach when the page first started, or did the conceptual undertones beneath the page just happen naturally?
A2: There were no concepts or anything behind the original iteration of Incellectuals. The only idea really was psycho-sh*tposting, constantly. Hundreds of posts of the same image, or an entire grid post of Charmander. Stuff like that, just to fill people's feeds with garbage. We thought that was funny. Also additionally, after getting deleted so much, for me, it’s like Instagram can't stop us or whatever. At one point I was kind of tired of it, but now I'm like, "let's just f**king keep making accounts over and over again."
A1: It's a little discouraging getting deleted, for sure. I would say, in the early days, it was like, how do I get people to unfollow us? What's the worst content that we can post so antithetical to Instagram's vibe that we’d get unfollowed? But it didn't work. Even now we have this running meme of blocking people, just blocking so many followers, like any little transgression just gets you blocked. It's this antithetical-to-Instagram-follower-gaining and branding-yourself kind of philosophy.
Q: Were there other accounts that inspired the Incellectuals-type-of-posting, or was it more something that came out on its own?
A2: I think for me, I was more inspired by the stuff that we were already sharing in the chat. We shared a lot of stuff from Instagram and all over Twitter, Reddit, whatever. Just posts that we thought were funny, posts that we thought were cringe, wholesome stuff, anything. And so in a way, it was kind of like the account is just a place to put all of that. I don't know specific sh*tposters. I don't know if we were thinking about that back then. Obviously, we must have been influenced by all the sh*t we were seeing on Instagram though.
A1: Yeah, I think when you're just so chronically online, you're just consuming so much …
A2: You're just absorbing the internet …
A1: There's a little temptation to archive every thought you've had. Kinda like the way Twitter works but in image-form on Instagram. The thing about Incellectuals is, I care so little about the quality. It's like any screenshot on any given day. I’ll take 100 screenshots and be like, "Why did I even screenshot that?" But then Instagram gives a nice platform to just post whatever in this archival of nothing. It’s like, this means nothing. And it suits that millennial-Internet-instinct to archive everything online.
Q: I wanna ask about when the account got banned the first time and why that happened? Was there a specific event behind that?
A2: I don't remember why Meaningful Images Only got banned. My memory of that kind of sucks now. But I do remember that the first Incellectuals was banned because we posted a Republican woman's T-shirt and she complained about copyright infringement. I remember the admin whose email was linked to the OG was trying to appeal that so we could get it back up.
A1: I remember Incels 2 got banned 'cause there was this TikToker, Jordan Firstman. We posted one of his TikToks 'cause they’re kinda cringy and cheesy, like "gays for white girl" kind of content. He got mad and DM'ed us. He does that a lot apparently, where he'll get mad if someone reposts a video of his in a non-earnest way, like "look how bad this is," or whatever. So when he DM’d us, we went on his Twitter and dug up a bunch of bad tweets and just started posting them … Yeah, I think he reported us. And then all of a sudden we were banned.
And once we already had Incellectuals 2, we ended up getting the OG Incellectuals back because the appeal went through. Both pages kind of blend together in my memory at that time, 'cause we had both those accounts at the same time.
And then with Incels 2, we decided as a group chat that we were gonna self-delete, so we started posting like all those ISIS flags and Goatse images. On Instagram, if you post an ISIS flag, it'll automatically take it out. It has that in its algorithm. So we posted it over and over, and like, we’d mash it up with the Goatse [chuckles].
A2: [laughter] Someone photoshopped the ISIS flag inside the Goatse's anus, and then we just kept posting that over and over and over and over again to destroy the account. Because at that time, once we got 2 back, it was getting kind of toxic. We just wanted a clean break. So we killed our own page and took a break. Like months later, one of the admins said, "I made another one,” and we started posting again. That was Incellectuals 5, and that was nice … That's when things got pretty zen.
A1: Even before 2 died, someone tried to cancel us. It was a little stressful. It was like one of those things where you get so wrapped up online where you're just in your phone 24/7. In our current state, we get to like 10,000 followers and then they get deleted very quickly.
A2: Instagram’s gotten way worse with deleting since the first Incellectuals. It's crazy, and interesting to see. We’ve gotten to see how much Instagram has changed and is cracking down on stuff. Like now, you can't even say the words “white” or “kill” without getting deleted. The algorithm can't distinguish a joke from a threat or whatever.
Q: I’m curious about the origin and timeline of the “Incellectuals minions” trend, all those “-cellectuals” accounts that use versions of the “I ♥ Jokes” profile picture. How did that trend and phenomenon start?
A2: That was during the first Incellectuals account. That started because, again, some of us were interested in how you could have a bunch of people logged into an account at one time but DM-ing each other in one chat. So you can only have 31 people in a group chat, right? But you can technically have way more people in the group chat if there are a lot of people signed into each account. So we were like, "What if we made a bunch of Incellectuals accounts where a lot of people have each password and then they're all in group chats? And it's like hundreds of people talking to each other in a chat."
So we posted a bunch of stories and other posts encouraging people to make their own Incellectuals accounts. I didn't think people would do it but hundreds of them did. There were hundreds and hundreds of accounts and they all had their own little themes. It was really funny. “Italyctuals,” was a really good one. “Coincellpro”: another a really good one. Those ones are still going on but there are like hundreds of them.
And then every time we saw a new account, we started putting them in group chats with each other. So there were all these Incellectuals group chats. I think there were five at one time, each with 31 Incellectuals accounts. They’d talk to each other. People kept making them. I think people are still making them.
A1: What’s funny is, on my side of the whole “minions” thing, is that I didn't know the “minions” thing was even happening. I logged into Instagram one day and I saw someone else’s Instagram story that said, "Make your own Incellectuals account." I didn't even know whose idea it originally was until two weeks ago actually. The admins, they just take on a life of their own. They just do completely random things and no one else is really aware of it or knows who's doing what.
A2: Like, there’s one admin in the past who’d DM followers and ask them if they wanted to go on “a quest.” Then they’d be like, "Part 1 of the quest is to light a candle and take a video of it and don't DM back for 10 days. And only after 10 days will you get your second part of the quest.” You’d go into the DMs and be like, "What the f**k is going on?" That stuff happened a lot.
We kinda did these weird little experiments. Mine was the minions; that was my experiment. Now we’re doing this “follow the numbers” thing, so you can anticipate what our next account will be. The minions took a lot of numbers so now we have to skip [chuckle]. Now we're on 8, and the next one's gonna be 6.
Q: Would you say there’s been a time when the account has affected your waking life? Maybe a moment where it’s felt like it’s crossed into the physical world for you?
A1: I used to get this FOMO feeling sometimes, like one you’d get on a date, like when you wanna look at your phone but can’t. One time, I was recording a podcast and I couldn't pay attention to what I was doing in real life 'cause I thought I was gonna miss out on crazy things happening in the group chat or on the page. For a minute, it sucked out a lot of time.
A2: I remember, especially during the Incellectuals era where it was really chaotic and dramatic sh*t was happening, I remember hanging out with people and then going into the bathroom to look at the group chat, just to make sure nothing crazy was happening. I had the exact same experience as you.
A1: 'Cause it would go by so quick. If you're off for two hours, so much would happen that you’d miss.
A2: Yeah, and nothing's actually happening [laughter]. All it really is, is not real; nothing real is happening. But because you're so wrapped up in it, it becomes real. And then in your waking life, time seems slower.
A1: Like that one time when we got canceled. Looking back, that's the most like … Meme page on meme page violence and cancellation [laughter]. It meant nothing, but when it was happening, I was just refreshing the page. Looking back, it's kind of cringy of how absorbed I was, especially in those early iterations in what was happening, which is like you said, essentially nothing.
A2: It’s also ‘cause of the pandemic. We just totally indulged in media because there was nothing else to do. It made things weird.
Q: Why did you all almost get canceled again?
A1: [laughter] So we had a tradition in the group chat that was, anytime someone new was added, we’d ask them to show their feet. Just as, like, an ice breaker, like, "Post feet." We did it with everyone new, everyone new. It was just funny and stupid. Two very random people got added to the group chat at a time where a lot of things in the group chat were changing. It sounds so stupid to talk about it this way like it matters, but yeah, they were in the group chat for two seconds. We asked for feet pics and they created this crazy narrative from it. They said we were 25 to 40-year-old white, media elite groomers. Then they also found out one of our admins was trans and started to say we were holding that admin hostage because we were “white, media elites.” Some weird stuff because they didn’t really know who we were. But that’s basically what happened.
Q: In general, have there been any other extra-bizarre DMs, reactions or comments that stick out to you over the years?
A2: There is one guy who posts a lot of flat earth comments. Almost every other account we've had … It doesn't matter what the post is, he’ll post crazy long wall comments about flat earth, conspiracy theories.
A1: They were very funny.
A2: It's pretty interesting. Yeah, it's pretty funny. But I think he's serious.
A1: [chuckle] Oh, really?
A2: Oh, yeah, for sure. He's definitely serious.
A1: And that makes it even funnier.
A2: Also, there are some people who are really obsessed with Incellectuals. Like crazy obsessed.
A1: Like that one girl. I feel like we've blocked her. I have. We block them and then they make these long posts, "I'm so sad. I've been with Incellectuals since the beginning." They are probably the most parasocial-obsessed sort of follower. But it's just always cool when someone has a lot of knowledge of the long-standing lore of Glue admin or something, you know?
A2: There's one minion account that knows the lore better than we do. This account is amazing: @incellectuals_dotcom. All of their posts are OC about fake Incellectuals conspiracy theories.
A1: Also, I think it's funny when I randomly stumble upon an Incellectuals minion page that has 10,000 followers or something, and I'm like, "Oh, what is this page?" You know? I always think that's pretty cool.
Q: Do you each personally have a favorite piece of lore?
A1: I liked when in the OG Incellectuals days everyone was sort of creating their admin names but no one, even within the group chat, knew who was who. So Glue Admin would get on and post Glue content, just like Elmer's Glue content.
A2: It was mysterious.
A1: No one knows who Glue Admin is. That was my favorite. When everyone was creating their admin names and creating their posting styles.
A2: I personally just reference that one minion page for good lore.
Q: Do either of you have any goals for the page going forward?
A1: It's in such a peaceful space right now. I don't know. Nowadays though, sometimes it's just three admins posting and no one else is posting. It's not like the time where it was everyone posting 24/7. It would be cool if everyone's phases aligned again, but I think within the Incellectuals tradition, there's never really been a goal. Anything that has happened that has been epic or whatever has just been on accident.
A2: I think it’s the most fun when everyone's posting at the same time. And I think it's fun for the people who are following too when it’s like that. But everyone needs a break too when they need one.
A1: I think of Instagram like this hub. Everything funnels into Instagram. Instagram posts are screenshots from Twitter or TikTok. Instagram is unique in that it's kind of where they all meet the viewer. Everyone f**king hates that platform, but everything f**king ends up there. I don’t know, I think that’s something to consider with goals moving forward.
A2: Also, I think it’s important that we aren’t part of any art scene, to distance that idea. In fact, we’d rather disappear from Instagram forever than be associated with the “post-internet art” scene in any way. We post everything from memes making fun of influencers and politicians to poop and boob jokes. It’s all the same to us. But the main goal really is that all of Instagram becomes “-cellectuals” accounts, that every account has an “I ♥ Jokes” profile picture and posts constantly. That’d be really cool.
click here to read this article in the November 2021 Meme Insider issue.