@911.police: the great meme purge, internet fame, and moreBilly Carney
August 25, 2020
Kier is a 21-year-old Canadian University student. He also happens to run one of the biggest meme pages on Instagram. His main page, @911.police, has over 1.8 million followers.
This past week, I sat down with Kier and got his takes on the meme purge of 2019, what it’s like to be internet famous, and more. Kier is charismatic and humble, and it was a pleasure to get to speak with him.
Kier, thanks for coming on. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
Sure, I’m a Canadian University Student in my fifth year. I was supposed to graduate last year and then Coronavirus happened. I should, hopefully, be done in December. On the side, I have the meme page, which I’ve been running for a few years.
When you did you first start @911.police?
That specific page actually used to be my backup. I made it in 2014 but I didn’t really start using it until 2016.
So you’ve had it for a while. Was there one point in time in which you said wow, this is really starting to take off?
Well I have had a few other pages. On a previous account I had reached up to around 300,000 followers – that was the most I had at any one point. This new page is the first that has hit over a million followers. It really started picking up steam at the beginning of 2018.
Before early 2018 I was relying on Instagram’s explore page to grow my account. My account was public and my growth was based on people finding my account through the explore page. Suddenly, meme pages started going private. I didn’t think it was a big deal but one day I tried it. This completely changed the game for gaining followers.
I guess the idea behind taking your page private is that people have to follow you to see your memes? And word gets out by followers sharing your content?
Yeah, exactly – but it was almost more of a reaction than a proactive move. This happened around the time in which Instagram started shadow-banning meme pages from the explore page. As a result, there was no reason to be public, so they started going private.
I think I’ve tried searching for your account before without being able to find it, is that what you mean by shadow ban?
Yes, so I’m not sure of the exact cause but it becomes difficult to search for the page and the page is removed from the explore page. This has been the case for me since 2018.
But you’re still able to gain followers, which is interesting.
Yes, even though I’m private. It’s all through other people sharing the content amongst friends.
Got it. So you mentioned this happened to a few pages. Do you know some of the other major meme page admins? How is your relationship with them?
It has changed throughout the years. Before relying on the explore page, we were essentially forced to talk to each other so we could help each other gain followers. Now, the past couple of years, I haven’t interacted much with any of them. You may recall a while back many of the meme pages got deleted off Instagram. So many meme pages got deleted. My page wasn’t deleted in the first sweep, but got the axe a month later.
After the first wave of pages being deleted, most of the owners of the major pages gathered and made a discord server to discuss. There were hundreds of major content creators on the server. These accounts talked there, asking questions, and trying to understand why their pages were deleted. The discord remains active but I don’t really interact with it anyone. There are a couple creators that I’ve known for a long time, and they’re friends of mine – that’s it for the most part.
If you’re unfamiliar with the “Meme Purge”, you can check out some more details here.
Can you say which page admins you were friendly with?
Yeah, one actually, her account got deleted so she no longer creates content. One of my personal friends started a meme page, @popbougie - I helped him gain some followers early on. We’ve been close since we met in our first year at Uni so I wanted to help him gain an audience. Another was the ‘pi guy’, who runs the @3.1415 (and so on) account. [At the time of this article, pi guy has over 5 million Instagram followers.]
That’s unfortunate that so many got taken out. Interesting, but unfortunate. Would you say most of these people have returned and gotten their accounts back?
Some of them were successful in reclaiming their pages, and still have their accounts. Some got their accounts back for a few weeks and then their pages were banned again. Some gave up and made new accounts, some hung up their cleats. I see a lot of the major accounts helping each other. There is a very strong, tight-knit community among some meme pages. While I’m not super involved, I see how they interact with each other every day.
Was it just the controversial pages that got taken down? While you keep things pretty light, some of your content is kind of PG-13. Was every meme page under fire?
So, the reasoning for the bans was pretty complicated, and not totally clear. Some people said the ban was due to affiliation with a certain advertising agency. Some people said explicit posts were the reason. What people in the discord server generally think is that it was actually all because of one guy - iced.vro. He was also a meme page and ended up being a tiktoker. I don’t know what he did, but apparently he got everyone banned. I don’t really know what happened but apparently he mentioned something about meme accounts and Instagram just decided to delete a lot of meme pages. Again, I have no idea what he did, but everyone blames him for the accounts being deleted.
Shifting gears here, has your page changed your life at all?
Yes, it certainly has. It has given me opportunities that I otherwise would not have. For example, I worked when I first started Uni. From my first year through my third years I worked part time, about four times a week to help pay for school. In my fourth year, I had to quit my job to focus on my classes – I have future plans that require certain marks. I decided it was best for me to focus on school.
With that said, I still needed an income – I had bills to pay. I occasionally post ads on my page and that was enough help to get me through Uni.
At this point you’re not a household name, but your Instagram following extends past that of many politicians and celebrities. What do you make of this? Has anyone recognized you in public?
So I live in a relatively small city, around 250,000 people. There are a number of events downtown and in our park. Sometimes I go with friends, we have a good time. I often see people I used to go to high school with. A lot of them know me not because I went to high school with them, but because of my meme page. I’ve heard people whisper and gesture and say “Is that the meme guy? Is that the meme guy?” I would just look at my friends and start laughing because they know me for that instead of us going to high school together.
Another story is from when I lived in Spain for study abroad. It was a Spanish institution, a lot of local students. I was in a class once, just going about my day, sitting in the front. I got a DM from a guy with a Spanish-sounding. It was a photo of me from the back of the room that said “you’re in my class”. I was looking around and I couldn’t figure out who it was. That was definitely one of the weirdest moments. It was a little creepy but at the same time I was like, whoa, this is pretty cool – people from Spain follow me on Instagram and know who I am. Eventually the guy introduced himself and we chatted for a bit, he was a big fan.
Beyond paying for school, has the page changed your life’s trajectory in any way? Would you maybe now try to go into media, or start a clothing brand or something?
Oh yeah, definitely. The University I go to found out I have a meme page with a pretty big audience, which has turned into some pretty cool opportunities. I shot a commercial for my University, mainly because I had the audience. I’ve also done some ads for them promoting some online classes. Some of this stuff probably wouldn’t have happened if I was just a normal – well, I am normal but, without the page
We spoke a bit more about Kier’s time at school, and shifted to discussing his audience.
You know, it’s weird. Most of my followers are aged 16-18. Back in the day, everyone on Instagram was the same age. Now there’s a lot of variation. It’s interesting that I’m 21 and sometimes if I’m interacting or replying to comments and they could be as young as 15, or who knows, maybe even younger. A lot of them are cool though.
Moving on, where do you get most of your memes, is it mostly submission?
For the most part I just get them from other pages. To be honest that’s what most meme pages do. If I find something interesting and think it can be posted I post it and give them a credit at the end. A lot also come from my friends sending me memes. I tell them to pass along what they like because I always need content.
Do you plan to expand your page or keep doing what you know?
I’ve been thinking about leveraging the page to do other things. For instance I’ve been told to stream on Twitch. Honestly, I want to because I do game often. The only issue is I don’t really have the right equipment for it. The opportunity is always going to be there and probably something I’ll do when the right time comes.
It sounds like your friends know about the page. Does your family know about the page, has it changed any relationships you have?
Yeah, they know about it. They think its cool that I can make money and help pay my tuition with it. I wouldn’t say it’s really changed anything otherwise. The only misconception is that they think I make a lot of money. It’s pretty good cash but I still will definitely need to find a job in the future.
Any crazy ambitions outside of Twitch streaming?
Well, once Corona is done I plan on traveling. My friend from France is doing a program in Jordan to learn Arabic, which I may do next summer as well. I’ve been trying to learn Arabic too. Hopefully I’ll travel a lot, find a long-term job, and continue adulting.
I’m studying international relations in school and I’ve learned French and Spanish. I studied abroad in Spain to further my fluency. Today, for the most part, I can speak four languages and I’m trying to learn more. I’m trying to learn Arabic and Portuguese. In Spain, they speak English - but not perfectly. Being able to speak Spanish really helped me communicate there. There’s a Nelson Mandela quote that goes “When you speak to someone in their second language you’re speaking with their head. When you speak to someone in their own language you’re speaking with their heart”. Communication is an interesting concept for me and I just really enjoy learning new languages.
That’s great, this has been a pleasure. Thank you again for coming on.