Insider

This mysterious Instagram account publishes some of DC’s best gossip

Summary List PlacementIn the aftermath of January 6, when a mob of pro-Trump rioters stormed the US Capitol and traumatized their city, Washingtonians noticed something weird. "Stop the Steal" attendees were allegedly joining dating apps while they were in town, thinking they'd get laid in a city where 93%...

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Summary List Placement

In the aftermath of January 6, when a mob of pro-Trump rioters stormed the US Capitol and traumatized their city, Washingtonians noticed something weird. “Stop the Steal” attendees were allegedly joining dating apps while they were in town, thinking they’d get laid in a city where 93% of voters chose Joe Biden in the 2020 election. 

Horrified, some residents captured screenshots and sent them not to the FBI or Capitol Police, but to an anonymously run account called Overheard District. The lively Instagram has a mysterious owner who crowdsources snippets of strangers’ conversations, cringeworthy dating app profiles, protest logistics, anti-racism resources, and tips for making the most of life in the nation’s capital. 

Some of the account’s 62,000 followers apparently took it upon themselves to try and “catfish” the insurrectionists— pose as someone else on dating apps to lure rioters, so they could be reported to authorities. Overheard District fans created fake dating profiles pledging their allegiance to MAGA, but added hashtags like #ohd as a wink to fellow community members. Their hunting expedition made national headlines. 

 

Through it all, the Instagram account was gleefully sharing the action in the app’s Stories feature — while also reminding followers to please report those people to the FBI, which could actually cuff them.

While Overheard District isn’t sure this effort got anyone arrested, on April 22, Feds nabbed one rioter in New York who bragged to a match on Bumble that he’d stormed the Capitol, reminding DC residents of their earlier detective work.

Last week, Insider conducted the first-ever interview with Overheard District’s mysterious account manager, who declined to reveal their identity. The manager said they preferred to remain anonymous because they wanted to amplify the voices of district residents rather than their own. Insider was able to verify that the person they spoke with had direct access to the account.

“I’ve connected with a lot of incredible people and businesses through the platform and would love to connect in real life one day, but for now, I’m staying under the radar,” the manager told Insider. 

A very DC diversion

Overheard District is sort of like DC’s version of the pandemic breakout hit DeuxMoi, an anonymously run celebrity gossip account where users submit stories about fleeting Hollywood encounters and mundane details about the rich and famous. Except, instead of crowdsourcing the trials and travails of Bachelor contestants, Real Housewives, and John Mayer, Overheard District shares followers’ run-ins with CNN hosts and Ben Bernanke, the former chair of the Federal Reserve.

“Stopped myself from fangirling Wolf Blitzer at a Chopt,” goes one archetypical comment.

The account exploded in popularity during the pandemic, becoming a hybrid of a community message board, citywide group chat, and resource for community activism and pandemic assistance. It’s a local rag for the Instagram era, with features and submissions driven primarily by its followers and curated by an Oz-like manager, who would rather stay behind the curtain.

Of course, that may only increase the desire for some followers to sleuth out the manager’s identity. Given the types of occupations available here, the account owner could be a Capitol Hill staffer, a lobbyist, a restaurateur, a federal employee or – dare we even suggest it? – a consultant at Deloitte.

 

The origins of Overheard District

Overheard District began when its manager noticed that other cities had similar Instagram accounts for chronicling their residents’ most hilarious, stereotypical conversations, but not DC. The city has a vibrant array of local publications like Washingtonian Magazine, PopVille, and DCist, as well as popular Instagram accounts like Washingtonian Problems, which has 182,000 followers. There’s also @UnsuckDCMetro, where commuters go to lament delayed trains, stinky buses, and other woes of the city’s public transportation system. But Overheard District quickly became a distinct entity.

It started posting the conversations the account manager overheard out in the world, then taking user submissions to post to the account. By 2019, Overheard District had grown to about 10,000 followers. Then the pandemic hit.

“Everyone was quarantined, and everyone was plugged into their phones and forced to connect with their friends and loved ones online,” the Overheard District manager said. “So everyone was kinda looking for relatable lighthearted content, and it created an opening for the platform to provide content that was entertaining and engaging.”

Overheard District started responding to the DMs they’d receive and posting more messages to the Stories feature on Instagram, which allows followers to rapidly tap through a series of posts. Engagement skyrocketed, with more and more users messaging the account.

“It would snowball into this conversation that we’re all having together, and it made people feel less isolated and connected to a community,” Overheard District said. 

That’s how the Ben Bernanke stories started.

“I have been to Ben Bernanke’s house when he was chair of the Federal Reserve,” one dating profile submitted to Overheard District boasted. That groan-inducing submission prompted other anonymous users to share random run-ins with Bernanke until he became something of an Overheard District meme.

The Bernanke gag also serves as a healthy reminder that everything on OHD should be taken with a heap of skepticism since theoretically, anyone could submit a fake encounter, conversation, or dating profile for the chance to get featured.

One unverified story posted to Overheard District recounted Bernanke arriving at an unspecified meeting, cabinet official in tow, only to encounter a screaming toddler. He then, according to the tipster, stepped over the toddler.

In an email to Insider sent from his iPad, Bernanke responded, “The story about stepping over the child is absurd.”

“A father myself, I would never do anything like that,” he wrote.

 

Speaking of dating profiles…

One of Overheard District’s most popular features, the Best and Worst of DC Dating Profiles, also took off last year. Residents couldn’t (or at least, weren’t advised to) date due to the risk of coronavirus transmission. But they could share some hilarious or cringeworthy Tinder and Hinge profiles. The community dissected particular DC “types” and debated ones to avoid: The “consultant”, anyone who “works at Deloitte”, people who live in Northern Virginia, guys who brag about going to Ben Bernanke’s house.

“My safe word is ‘Booz Allen Hamilton,'” reads one screenshotted Bumble profile that Overheard District put up for ridicule. (Booz Allen Hamilton is a major consulting firm headquartered in the DC region.)

Or this overheard gem: “I’m sorry but he’s the same age as AOC. There’s no excuse for him to not have his shit together.”

A pivot to community activism

While Overheard District understood its community came to them for comic relief, it also saw followers sharing community resources and information about protests against racial injustice last summer.

DC became the epicenter of the Black Lives Matter protests following the murder of George Floyd and after the Trump administration ordered police to disperse protesters gathered in front of the White House with tear gas and force — all so the president could walk across the street for a photo op with a Bible. The National Guard patrolled the city for weeks, and businesses already hurt by the pandemic were forced to close by temporary curfews.

“The same people that share funny profiles are the same people that care really strongly about things in our community, racial justice, supporting local businesses, and bringing the community around in actionable ways,” the manager said.

“I started using the account to share resources, anti-racism resources, and highlight Black-owned businesses in the city,” the person continued. “There was a lot happening with protests, there was so much happening, asking to donate masks and water and provide protest resources.” 

As many DC residents continue to look for jobs, Overheard District has launched another impromptu feature, career matchmaking, after a user shared the story of a man who was hawking his resume on the street.

After one initial post, people looking for work flooded the account with their own resumes — and hiring managers reached out, too. 

“I think I canceled my plans for like 3 days, I was just completely consumed by all of the messages,” Overheard District said.

What’s next for OHD?

If that all sounds like a lot of work for one person, Overheard District’s account manager assures you that it is. They spend several hours each day sifting through hundreds of DMs, managing spreadsheets of submissions and then curating it all for the community. They squeeze in the work on top of their day job, and they do it all for free.

While the Overheard District account has helped residents get through the last year, its manager wants them to know the feeling is mutual.

“It’s still a humbling and rewarding experience to receive messages,” the manager told Insider. “I felt really isolated and alone during quarantine, and this account gave me a lot of joy and made me feel really connected.”

To start capitalizing on its success and create a more streamlined way for fans to find old content, Overheard District recently launched a website, DistrictConnected. They’re also considering whether to monetize their work with donations or merchandise.

So if DC residents suddenly start wearing T-shirts emblazoned with “BERNANKE”, now you’ll know why.

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