The Brief: 'Jeffrey Epstein didn't kill himself' conspiracy theory memes are everywhere, but they typically prioritize humor over any particular political agenda.

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DEEP DIVE

While scrolling through your social media feed, you may have noticed something out of the ordinary. Amidst cute doggo photos and #OOTD posts, images have been popping up that look at first looks innocuous, except for the fact that it contains the phrase “Jeffrey Epstein didn’t kill himself.” Since the millionaire sex offender died by suicide while he was in jail waiting to be tried for sex trafficking and sexual abuse of minors, memes have emerged speculating that his true cause of death was murder.

“Epstein didn’t kill himself” memes typically consist of an unrelated image or video with the phrase snuck in an unexpected way. The appeal of these memes comes from a bait-and-switch reminiscent of rickrolling. They act as an inside joke that juxtaposes something silly: an off-topic meme, with something serious: a conspiracy theory about the death of a high-profile sexual predator.

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As Epstein had ties to both President Donald Trump and former President Bill Clinton, both of whom have been accused of sexual misconduct including rape, conspiracy theories come from people across the political spectrum. While the circumstances of Epstein’s death appear to have been related to negligence on the part of the New York City jail in which he was detained, there is no major credible evidence that points to him having been murdered

What is particularly appealing about these conspiracy memes to those who create and share them is the way in which they combine a taboo and inflammatory conspiracy theory with amusingly unrelated image macros. The theory itself may contain sinister elements and connections to more malicious conspiracy theories. As evidenced by Pizzagate, online conspiracy theories can lead to real-world consequences, sometimes as drastic as someone bringing a gun to a pizza parlor. Epstein death conspiracy theories have been tied to Qanon, a group that has been known to amplify outrageous and dangerous misinformation.

Epstein didn’t kill himself
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‘Jeffrey Epstein Didn’t Kill Himself’ Meme Timeline

Several events have contributed to the rise and fall of these memes including news updates about the circumstances of Epstein’s death and instances in which people have gotten attention for publicly spreading the theory. As Epstein memes evolve, they show that they’re all bark and no bite: joking about politics and Epstein without actually seeking justice for his victims. Based on the ironic tone of many of these memes, they’re often more about joining in on a viral trend and accumulating clout than they are about investigating Epstein’s death or crimes. 

August 10, 2019 – Epstein found dead by suicide 

October 2 – First recorded bait-and-switch meme posted to iFunny, according to Know Your Meme

October 25Joe Rogan posts conspiracy theory meme which receives over  350,000 likes on Instagram

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October 30 – A pathologist hired by Jeffrey Epstein’s brother claims that Epstein may have died by homicide

November  2 – A former Navy SEAL says “Epstein didn’t kill himself” out of context during a Fox News interview 

November 8 – A man tried and failed to register to run for president in New Hampshire under the name “Epstein Didn’t Kill Himself”

November 13 – Arizona Representative Paul Gosar hides the phrase “Epstein didn’t kill himself” in a series of 22 tweets

Are These Memes In Poor Taste?

The light tone and snarkiness of “Jeffrey Epstein Didn’t Kill Himself” memes are incongruous with the seriousness of his crimes and the impact of his suicide. In the wake of his death, several of Epstein’s accusers expressed disappointment that he will not be properly prosecuted for his crimes.  There has also been speculation that had he gone to court, Epstein may have revealed key information about the breadth of his crimes and implicated other men who were alleged to have been involved in sexual abuse and trafficking alongside him. Additionally, these memes may be triggering to survivors of sexual abuse and may belittle the severity of Epstein’s crimes. 

Misc Epstein Conspiracy Theory Memes

Epstein memes have proliferated across social media platforms, onto beer cans, and into dating app profiles. On Instagram, the hashtag #EpsteinDidntKillHimself has been tagged in over 25,000 posts. The subreddit r/Epstein is dedicated to discussions about Epstein’s life, crimes, and death and has over 22,000 members. The oversaturation of this meme online could lead to its death, but so far the memes have shown no sign of slowing.

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A church near where I live decided to get in on the memes today.
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daily reminder epstein didn’t kill himself
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