The Lincoln Project, the Republican group that has gained popularity among some liberals for its snarky anti-Trump tweets and videos, has been accused by some content creators of plagiarism and improper attribution.
Several Twitter users, including video editor and comedian Vic Berger, alleged in recent weeks that The Lincoln Project copied their tweets or used their photos and videos without permission or proper attribution. The group — whose content earned it nearly 2 million followers and millions in cash from political donors in just a few months — was benefiting from smaller creators’ content for free, they said.
In one instance, the group shared without credit an edited image Berger had created that made it look as though Trump had framed photos of convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein on his desk in the Oval Office.
The accusations garnered widespread attention on Sunday when NBC News reporter Brandy Zadrozny shared several of the claims with her 48,000 Twitter followers.
“Stealing from creators is a nonpartisan crime,” Zadrozny wrote in her tweet, which had been retweeted more than 4,000 times as of Tuesday.
In a statement to HuffPost, The Lincoln Project said Tuesday that it would “make every effort to attribute content” in the future.
“The Lincoln Project works every day to defeat Donald Trump and his enablers in November,” the group said in its statement. “Along the way, we’ve scaled quickly, and have been fortunate to build a larger social following than we ever could’ve hoped for.”
The statement continued: “We recognize that with our reach comes a responsibility to always recognize the talent and hard work of creators. Moving forward, we will make every effort to attribute content, and we are evolving our policies to ensure that happens.”
The Lincoln Project was formed in late 2019 by several Republicans ― including attorney George Conway, the husband of White House adviser Kellyanne Conway ― with the stated purpose of preventing Trump’s reelection.
Many so-called Resistance Democrats latched on to the group’s Trump-trolling ads, creating a surge of enthusiasm for the group that reflected in both its social media presence and its piggy bank.
The Lincoln Project’s Twitter account, created in December 2019, has more than 1.9 million followers, and the group said it raised more than $16 million in donations between April and June. The Lincoln Project’s latest filings show the vast majority of its spending during this time period went to firms run by the group’s board members, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
In their allegations of plagiarism, some Twitter users noted The Lincoln Project’s connection to Meme2020, a company founded by Jerry Media CEO Mick Purzycki. The New York Times reported last month on Meme2020’s partnership with The Lincoln Project in a campaign focused on voter mobilization.
Jerry Media, a social media marketing agency, was founded in 2016 by Purzycki, James Ohliger and Elliot Tebele, the owner and operator of the mega-popular Instagram account @fuckjerry. The company was subject to backlash last year after content creators, including Berger, accused it of stealing their content. It was also behind the failed Fyre Festival’s notorious promotional campaign.
Purzycki is the head of Jerry Media, but his company Meme2020 is not affiliated with Jerry Media, @fuckjerry or either of the other partners, Meme2020 spokesperson Ryan Kelley told HuffPost.
Meme2020 did not create or send any of the tweets mentioned in Zadrozny’s tweet, Kelley said. All content created by Meme2020 is either original, licensed or created in-house, he added.
Berger, however, is skeptical of that claim.
“They’re liars,” Berger told HuffPost on Tuesday. He added: “It’s not fair use. It’s stealing other people’s ideas and passing them off as their own. And that’s the @fuckjerry business model. Profit is always the number one. That’s the motive.”
Berger accused The Lincoln Project of being a “big grift” in which Republican strategists rake in millions of dollars from liberals.
“It’s just disgusting,” he said. “When money’s involved, especially tens of millions of dollars that they’re raising by bilking these ‘Resistance’ people, then definitely there’s a higher standard.”
The Lincoln Project should be paying the content creators they’re scraping from or properly promoting and attributing the work, Berger said. And simply embedding a video into a tweet (like the example below) isn’t good enough, he added.
“Sharing that way is bullshit from an account like that,” Berger said. “They could easily retweet my actual tweet and tag me. ... Doing it that way gives them all the likes and followers.”
A spokesperson for The Lincoln Project did not immediately respond when asked if they would retweet instead of embed other accounts’ videos in the future.
Kelly Hui, an 18-year-old college student, said she was shocked when she noticed a couple of days ago that The Lincoln Project posted a tweet on Aug. 1 that was almost identical to a tweet she sent out a week earlier.
Hui, who has just over 800 Twitter followers, tweeted eight animal emojis next to envelopes on July 23 with the caption: “They’re voting by mail for ed markey,” in reference to this year’s Senate race in Massachusetts.
The tweet received an abnormally high amount of engagement for Hui, nabbing thousands of likes and retweets.
A week later, The Lincoln Project sent a tweet with the exact same emojis and the caption: “They’re voting by mail for Biden.”
Though the “emoji party” meme had been popular on Twitter for several months, the specific construction used by Hui was not the typical template. It’s pretty clear The Lincoln Project team simply copied her tweet, she said.
“The whole thing was a bit absurd,” Hui told HuffPost on Tuesday. “I understand the life of a meme: it gets reposted, repurposed. But I think my main reaction is sort of just negative because you know I’m not a fan of The Lincoln Project and especially their founders’ views ― I think are just diametrically opposed to mine.”
“I don’t like that my content is being used to further their agenda,” she added, “which I’m sure post-November will be used to prop up their own party.”
The Lincoln Project made headlines last month when it parted ways with video editor Ben Howe after a series of misogynistic tweets he sent in 2017 resurfaced.
Clarification: An earlier version of this story stated that Jerry Media operates the @fuckjerry Instagram account. According to Meme2020 spokesperson Ryan Kelley, Jerry Media co-founder Elliot Tebele is the owner and operator of that account.