Eric Wedgewood, the 31-year old man behind the popular Content Zone meme pages on Facebook and Instagram, shut down his accounts over the weekend after being accused of hitting on underage girls via DM.
Wedgewood, who has also gone by the pseudonyms Eric Collin, Xim Xom, and Heiko Julien, started his meme pages several years ago and grew them to a collective several hundred thousand followers before shuttering them in response to the backlash.
Wedgewood declined repeated requests to speak with The Daily Beast and has not yet issued a public statement on the issue.
On Saturday afternoon, an anonymous Instagram account under the handle @HeikoJulien began posting screenshots of inappropriate messages Wedgewood allegedly sent girls as young as 16 from his Content Zone Instagram handle.
"I'm not Eric," the admin of @HeikoJulien commented on a post of theirs on Saturday. "It seems like Eric's frequent use of fake names + sneaky tactics made a lot of women afraid to talk to me about him."
The account then proceeded to post a slew of screenshots detailing Wedgewood's shifting identities and his alleged relationships with various women.
"In my own experience with Eric, I met him when I was 17 and he had to be in his late 20s and he would continuously hit on me," one woman who met Wedgewood after he began messaging her on social media told The Daily Beast. She later distanced herself from him.
"Eric Wedgewood AKA content zone AKA xim xom AKA heiko julien is not to be trusted and hopefully we'll recognize his face next time it pops up under another new name," another person tweeted on Saturday.
"He started messaging me when I was 16," another woman told The Daily Beast. "He followed me on Twitter. I was just young and vulnerable, saw someone with a large following and a writer followed me. I was like omg look at this person following me He DMed me and we just started talking. I told him my age because he asked. He seemed to express some discomfort, but he kept talking to me."
She said that Wedgewood frequently referred to her as "the teen" in conversations with friends and asked her to delete records of their chats out of fear of reprisal.
Other women in the Instagram meme community posted memes alluding to the allegations against Wedgewood and the men online who continued to defend himbut, in some cases, their memes were swiftly removed by the platform.
"Yesterday I woke up to my meme about him, but not in any way naming him, being deleted twice by Instagram," a woman who runs the account @bunnymemes told The Daily Beast. "A friend of mine reposted it and her page got fully deleted. There seems to be either a lot of people reporting anyone that is even discussing whats going on, or literally Eric is calling in favors to Instagram. No one is really sure, especially since he does have a pretty deep reach in the online community."
On Monday evening Wedgewood briefly reactivated his Instagram account but set the account to private. By Tuesday afternoon it was gone again.
While @ContentZone has failed to reach the level of viral fame that larger accounts such as The Fat Jew, Fuck Jerry, Kale Salad or other more mainstream handles have achieved, he regularly networked with these larger accounts and was integrated into a tight-knit community of Instagram memers.
Women in this community said that it was sadly unsurprising to see an older man using an anonymous meme account to allegedly pick up young women. In fact, this type of behavior is rampant on the platform.
Many popular meme pages on Instagram are either owned by or run by men in their mid- to late-20s or early 30s, yet are followed by thousands of young female fans. High-schoolers make up the majority of the people who follow these popular meme accounts, according to several people who run such accounts.
To make things all the more blurry, teens themselves will often collaborate or co-admin accounts with older memers. At one point over a dozen people, including one teen, had access to Content Zone's social media accounts (though the messages sent to the young women were seemingly from Wedgewood).
The fact that older male meme admins have unlimited access to DM teen girls makes it critical that they, as adults, set boundaries and respect the inherent power dynamic at play.
Unfortunately, many men fail to do so.
"These meme accounts are their one key, it's their golden ticket," said one female memer. "They can be anonymous, they can craft their persona. They can pretend like they're witty and innocuous and cool, then slide into the DMs."
"When someone a with large following follows you, it catches your attention and feels like a big deal," added another young woman. If these girls aren't aware of the power dynamics at play or the fact that these men might not have their best interests at heart they can end up being taken advantage of, she said.
Meanwhile, older women in the Instagram meme community said that they also felt victimized and taken advantage of by popular male memers, but in a different way.
They said that male memers, including Wedgewood, typically stole their jokes, refused to tag them, or reposted their content without attributionall the while racking up thousands of followers.
"A lot of these guys are awful and they're the ones who are in control of everything," one woman who runs a popular Instagram meme page told The Daily Beast. "We have to work with these men and they have the keys to the castle. I'm noted as a meme account who started this specific style of meme but because I'm a woman I don't get as much attribution at my male counterparts Women are the funniest people on the internet right now and they get no credit."
"I am friends with some of the bigger male and female accounts," one man who runs a mid-sized meme page said. "The top meme pages, the broad topic comedy ones are all run by men … a lot of them work in small networks, meme gangs. Content Zone was one of these, but he was one of the shittiest. Not just in ripping people off with not crediting or stealing the idea but also being a total creep to women on IG."
Because men dominate the meme market, women have, even now, expressed hesitation about speaking out for fear of being blacklisted. The primary way Instagram meme pages grow is from partnerships and collaboration and tagging each other in postsand some women (and men) are scared to jeopardize that.
"The majority of the male and right-leaning accounts have been silent on the Content Zone situation and although the female and more left-leaning accounts are upset about it they feel powerless to do much about it," the male meme admin added.
"Among these meme communities, the circles dominated by men have huge reach, while the female-run circles are far more niche," another female Instagram memer said. "This disparity, coupled with the fact that women are obviously at a disadvantage in the first place, gives men the control and power in these communities. Women who speak out can be silenced. Women who speak out can be dismissed. And that's because the burden of proof always falls on the less 'important' one (aka the one with less followers), thus the less trustworthy, who is, as I said, nearly always a woman."
One effect the callout campaign on Wedgewood and Content Zone has had, however, is to make some men think twice about the types of conversations they're having with women online. One man who runs a meme account with over one million followers said that he operates from a position that every DM he sends on his account will someday be screenshotted and shared with the world, and so he's careful to make sure nothing gets misinterpreted.
Other women have made it a point to educate their own Instagram communities on the ways men can take advantage of them when they're young and vulnerable.
Em, a woman who co-runs the meme account @memeplebes420, said that she and her partner regularly share educational content with their followers on a number of issues, including dealing with creepy men, and try to do it in a way that's accessible and funny.
"We've posted a couple things about older men preying on younger girls," she told The Daily Beast, "making it really funny but relatable because it is so unfortunately so common."
"There was one post we did of this girl with a spray bottle and it says 'Freshman starter pack,' and the bottle says 'Senior boy repellent.' I was like, oh shit, I remember being in high school and older guys were into my best friend and I was like wtf is wrong with them, she's 14. I hope younger girls are starting to see, oh, maybe this person acting this way toward me is not ok."
"There's literally no reason for anyone outside of high school to be flirting with high-school girls," added a popular male memer.
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