A video of a Valdosta cop lives beside a joke about smoking marijuana that’s near unattributed news of quarterback Colin Kaepernick in Riverdale trying to show he’s ready to rejoin the NFL.
Welcome to the Twitter account “Everything Georgia,” the gray area between social media and journalism.
In no way affiliated with the government, @gafollowers posts aggregated news, original around-the-town videos, paid advertisements and Georgia-centric memes.
Started by two teens as a way to sneakily promote a burgeoning rap career, Everything Georgia now has 1.55 million followers, or roughly a tenth of Georgia’s population.
For scale, Everything Georgia has more Twitter followers than all these accounts combined: Gov. Brian Kemp’s personal account, Waffle House, University of Georgia football star Herschel Walker, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Chick-fil-A and the official state of Georgia account. In full transparency: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has 1 million followers despite joining Twitter three years before Everything Georgia.
Between all of the brand’s accounts, including Facebook and Instagram, co-founders Jeremy Jones and Joshua Jelks estimate they have 2.6 million followers.
“I don’t want people to ever feel like we’re this corporation and that there’s not people behind it. It’s literally just two guys that’s doing this, and we appreciate them supporting us through our rough patches,” Jelks said.
Neither expected the account to connect so many people. “I’m pretty sure we’ve gotten a lot of people in relationships,” Jelks said, “good and bad.”
Everything Georgia’s Twitter success is an example of how the internet has flattened everything and everyone to the same level. People looking at their digital feeds see an Everything Georgia meme about cold weather right after a tweet from the AJC about exclusive Atlanta city hall corruption findings. That’s a relatively new development for civilization.
An AJC analysis of tweets from July 2018 to mid-November 2019 shows the median number of favorites (think of them as the “likes” a post gets on Facebook) each Everything Georgia tweet received was 757. For comparison, Chick-fil-A’s account during that span had a median of 689 favorites; for Gov. Kemp’s Twitter account that number is 100.
Jones and Jelks acknowledge they use their audience to make a living. They declined to say how much they make from the ads, apparel and events connected to their tweets. But they have their own apartments and say they feel they have comfortable lives.
It was different when they launched the account a decade ago as 19-years-olds who met at M.D. Roberts Middle School in Jonesboro.
After high school graduation, Jelks became an electrician apprentice and Jones spent some time in college classes, but never graduated.
Jones was living with his father around Washington, D.C. when he started the still-active @dmvfollowers. He said he built it to share things going on around D.C. so he could then slip in some YouTube links of himself rapping to promote his music. Jones figured he could do the same in rap-rich Atlanta, so he looped in Jelks.
They started “@ATLfollowers” but quickly realized they were boxing themselves in.
“We wouldn’t be as popular as we are currently without being a Georgia-based page even though a lot of people’s criticism is that we’re Atlanta-heavy,” Jelks said. They figured “Everything Georgia” was good because it included areas that don’t always get noticed, and it gave the account the best chance at growing a large audience.
As it turns out, said Georgia Tech professor André L. Brock, the pair tweeted at the right time.
“Twitter happened to coincide with two things,” Brock said, “the rise of the smartphone and people’s over-familiarity with” chatting online.
As media has diversified, it has become much harder to amass such a dedicated following. And audience is power because that’s how to leverage your advertisement prices.
The professor said the account has a different relationship with the community than, say, a local newspaper with 130-year-old roots in metro Atlanta that prides itself on investigative journalism.
“It’s still very different than if I wrote a letter to the editor,” he said of Twitter.
Brock said he recently discovered a new meditation studio from Everything Georgia. “It’s kind of like a sommelier offering you a new wine,” he said. “I always look for them to tell me about something I don’t know about.”
There’s plenty of lifestyle magazines that serve a well-to-do crowd, but Brock said Everything Georgia appeals to a wide swath of people, income and interests.
“There’s no such thing as sommelier for Faygo or Big Red,” said Brock, who is writing a book called “Distributed Blackness: African American Cybercultures.”
As the Everything Georgia followers changed and grew, the co-founders changed and grew the account. They began reporting actual news. Neither of the co-founders is a trained journalist, but they both agree they operate as a news outlet.
They built their brand on the idea of being a more interesting and relatable version of traditional media. But they still do some of the things they admit make those legacy news organizations stuffy: They don’t take political stances and try to retweet non-controversial people.
“You start getting into things of politics and religion and all this stuff … those are the kinds of things you want to stay away from, but you do want to kind of inform them and not try to do it in a bias way, but when you’re so informal and personal when you’re delivering the tweets, it can leak into it and you can kind of alienate crowds or polarize yourself,” Jones said.
When asked how they fact-check, they said by relying on the news outlets they pick up material from to be correct. If folks want to know more than 280 characters worth, the pair expects the reader to seek out more information.
They recently got duped because they posted a video of what they thought was a fight over the re-released chicken sandwich at a Popeyes on Edgewood Avenue in Atlanta. But there’s no Popeyes on Edgewood, which followers quickly pointed out. The video was from Edgewood, Maryland.
“We are a news source. We are a source of news because people come to us to look at news, music, sports, events,” Jelks said.
“Is Twitter news? I guess Twitter is news,” Jones said.
Data specialist Nick Thieme contributed to this report.
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