Mom jokes, butt puns, Baby Yoda memes: N.J. gov’t goes full ‘Jersey Girl’ online

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From left, Megan Coyne and Pearl Gabel, who run the @NJGov Twitter account, with Edwin Torres. The trio work on Gov. Phil Murphy's digital team. (Courtesy of Governor's Office)

From left, Megan Coyne and Pearl Gabel, who run the @NJGov Twitter account, with Edwin Torres. The trio work on Gov. Phil Murphy's digital team. (Courtesy of Governor's Office)

The world’s been put on notice: If you sass New Jersey, the state’s going to sass you back.

“Who let New Jersey have a Twitter?” one user asked last week.

“Your mom,” New Jersey’s official account shot back in a retort that has garnered nearly 500,000 likes.

Now, Gov. Phil Murphy seems to be taking cues from the state’s Twitter, throwing caution to the wind and reigniting a perennial New Jersey debate.

“As Governor of the Great State of New Jersey, I hereby declare that CENTRAL JERSEY DOES EXIST,” he roared on his own Twitter account this week.

The transition of the state’s online personality from a relatively staid presence pushing out official pronouncements into a snarky instigator has been a gradual one, led by two women who have worked since June to give their home state an authentic voice.

“People know about our state, but it’s kind of a joke to them,” said Megan Coyne, the 22-year-old who helps run the now-famous @NJGov Twitter account with Pearl Gabel, the state’s digital director. “So we decided to reclaim that Jersey identity and embrace it and just really have a lot of fun with it.”

Gabel, a self-described “old millenial,” summed it up another way: “Never underestimate a Jersey girl. That’s the attitude.”

The mom joke marked the culmination of New Jersey’s online transformation, earning the state more than 50,000 new followers over the weekend. Those followers can now enjoy butt puns, Baby Yoda memes, New Jersey-related humor and user-generated content that Coyne said makes her laugh so hard she keeps a box of tissues at her desk to wipe away the tears.

“One of the best parts about this for us has been seeing all the people on Twitter responding, saying, ‘Oh my God, I’m so proud to be from New Jersey,’ ‘I miss my home state,’ and ‘I wish I lived in New Jersey!’” Coyne said.

The account is about more than just Internet humor, though. Gabel says it’s a way to make state government “digestible” and to build a following that’s more receptive to information about clean energy initiatives, mental health resources and other services.

On Tuesday, it retweeted updates about an impending winter storm and a shooting in Jersey City that left six people dead.

“We’re here for policy,” said Gabel, whose team also runs the state’s other social media accounts, oversees the state website, and shoots photos and videos.

Gabel and Coyne said they’re conscientious of not crossing the line with the account’s New Jersey attitude, although they acknowledged they’re not quite sure where that line is.

“I was bullied as a kid. I hate the idea of being a bully,” Gabel said. “But I love the idea of owning your faults so that nobody can bully you. New Jersey is historically the bullied one, and so we’re almost like standing up for New Jersey, if that makes sense.”

Central Jersey debate rages

The account has the blessing of the governor, who issued a statement Tuesday praising its “in-your-face Jersey attitude we all love.”

“We’re drawing people in with fun and humor, but also giving them the opportunity to learn about issues like health care and education,” Murphy said.

Murphy also ran headlong into the raucous Twitter arena with his forceful endorsement of Central Jersey’s existence. It was his boldest pronouncement to date, given the long-running debate over the state’s geographical fault lines.

People who live in the middle part of the state often say they live in an area properly referred to as Central Jersey, while many who reside elsewhere maintain it’s either North Jersey or South Jersey with nothing in between.

Murphy, who lives in Middletown in Monmouth County, subtly took a stand on the issue during his inaugural address in January 2017. “We are one New Jersey — north, central and south — an extended family striving for success,” he said.

In an interview with Stephen Colbert last year, he went a bit further, calling those who deny Central Jersey’s existence “desperately wrong.”

“It’s a little bit of a mystical kingdom, kind of a Camelot,” he said. “It’s in the mist so you really have to sort of grasp it and live it. It’s not abstract. It’s there, I promise you.”

But for a governor who declined to take a stance in the separate, but equally emotional, Taylor ham versus pork roll controversy his unapologetic defense of Central Jersey this week was notable.

Gabel and Coyne said they’re excited to continue building an online community of New Jersey-lovers and have big plans for boosting the state’s online presence.

“Keep an eye on New Jersey,” Gabel said.

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