When Baltimore resident Marquel Carter assumes his viral internet persona called “Plainpotatoess,” he has two goals — to push people to their limits and to catch it on video for his popular social media accounts.
In one clip posted to the “Plainpotatoess” Instagram account, Carter appears to crash a wedding and steal drinks from guests. In another video, he follows people down a sidewalk, telling them their breath stinks and handing them a toothbrush. Some of the videos end with Carter being removed from businesses or, in one case, physically attacked.
The 20-year-old’s antics have attracted hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook over the past year. In Baltimore, Carter now faces legal repercussions for the videos, which police say demonstrate criminal behavior and experts say could reflect an addictive relationship with social media.
Carter was charged Thursday with five counts of harassment and 16 counts of trespassing in Baltimore, according to court records and police. Twitter has also suspended his account.
The internet personality agrees his brand of humor is subjective and, in retrospect, may go too far.
“People told me I was really good at being annoying,” Carter said. “I did it one time and it was funny. And then I was doing it to get a reaction out of people.”
After being charged, he grappled with feeling regretful, yet defensive of the videos, which he said would not have been possible if people weren’t so touchy these days.
While Carter filmed in multiple neighborhoods around Baltimore, Mount Vernon proved to be the area with the easiest subjects, he said.
“I feel like everyone is just really sensitive,” Carter said. “Mount Vernon is so sensitive. I went to [Federal Hill]; it took me a long time to get a reaction. They were unbothered.”
Baltimore resident Andrew Timleck counts himself among the people filmed by Carter. He said he encountered Carter as “Plainpotatoess” twice in Mount Vernon last year — the second encounter during a lunch break June 7 that resulted in police being called.
According to the police report, Timleck threw his lunch at Carter and knocked his phone to the ground, stomping on it and shattering the screen. He was charged with second degree assault and destruction of property.
Timleck understood the destruction of property charge but resented that police did not seem to recognize the context of the situation. He alleged Carter refused to stop filming him and followed him into the Walters Art Museum.
“It was so personally invasive,” Timleck said of the experience.
Timleck, a Canadian citizen, recently applied for his green card so he can permanently reside in the United States with his husband. He fears the charges will hurt his immigration application.
Numerous Baltimore residents took to Facebook and Reddit in recent months to complain about “Plainpotatoess” and wage a social media campaign to have Carter investigated by police. City councilman Eric Costello said he received complaints from 12 residents, which prompted him to reach out to law enforcement.
After some reflection on the fallout over “Plainpotatoess,” Carter said he was sorry for any harm he caused and regretted not resisting the allure of likes and favorites on social media.
“Honestly, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal,” he said. “I wasn’t aware. I mean, I’m a grown man and I know I should know. But I didn’t see it being that bad.”
Carter said he tried in December to walk away from his online character. He deleted all his posts on Twitter and Instagram, and started instead posting footage of himself playing piano.
“So many people came into my [direct messages] and told me ‘You’re the funniest guy, you got to keep going.’” he said. “Then you realize you’re getting less attention doing the music.”
Having so much clout on social media was like a drug, Carter said.
“When you post a video on Twitter and it gets two million views in four hours, I just kept doing it,” said Carter.
The science supports Carter’s experience of feeling addicted to social media, said Rachel Alinsky, a physician who specializes in adolescent and addiction medicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine.
“All of the likes someone gets really does activate those reward centers [in the brain],” Alinsky said. “It's an area that needs more research to characterize and treat it. Phones and social media will probably only become more prevalent, so we need to better understand how to use these apps in a safe way.”
Social media is not formally recognized in the medical community as an addiction. However, several studies show that exposure to social media lights up the same three areas of the brain as an addiction, Alinsky said.
“Giving likes and receiving likes activated the reward centers,” she said.
Additionally, adult brains do not fully form until around age 25, making adolescents and young adults particularly susceptible to forming such habits.
Two other Marylanders have encountered legal trouble stemming from behavior on the internet. In 2017, a Frederick County couple received five years probation on charges of child neglect after posting disturbing “prank” videos to their “DaddyOFive” Youtube channel. In the videos, Michael and Heather Martin were seen destroying an Xbox, and berating and cursing at two of their five children.
Despite a Twitter suspension, Carter’s Instagram and Facebook accounts remained intact Monday.
Moving forward, he hopes to continue the “Plainpotatoess” brand by live-streaming himself instead of following around other people.
People do not really know the true Marquel Carter outside of his “annoying” online character, he said.
“They just assume I’m walking around all day as the most erratic person at all times,” he said. “But no. In real life, I’m really nice.”