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Pop Culture with Aminah: The Problem with TikTok Influencers

Image courtesy of The Verge

Our family dinner began as most of them do. Everyone went around the table telling each other about their day until one of us brought up something that others were interested in talking about. That night, my middle sister brought up TikTok. Even though both of my sisters and I are avid users of the app, the only thing we have in common is our love for Charli D’Amelio. They went through their list of favorite creators, one of whom was Chase Hudson (better known as Lil Huddy). The more creators my sisters mentioned, the more I realized there were significant problems in the TikTok community.

The first time I heard of Lil Huddy was when a video of him saying the n-word leaked online. It took him over a year to address it with a vague apology that he later deleted. With his comment section filled with angry users, the scandal seemed unavoidable. Yet somehow, my sister had never heard about the video and was shocked she didn’t know about it.

The era of TikTok influencers is eerily reminiscent of Magcon days. Magcon, a company dedicated to promoting social media stars, toured the world with Vine and Instagram influencers from 2013 to 2017. Many of the Magcon influencers went on to achieve their dreams of being singers, models and actors. Their success revealed a new, highly profitable market for up and coming talent.

The Hype House seemingly reimagines Magcon. Rather than touring, top TikTok creators team up to make videos, eventually profiting off their newfound fame by selling merch and securing brand deals. For example, members Charli D’Amelio and Addison Rae Easterling were able to significantly increase their following and marketability by collaborating. Both have makeup lines coming out — D’Amelio with Morphe and Easterling with her own brand. However, the Hype House has been criticized for its all-white membership. Even with the introduction of BIPOC creators Avani Gregg and the Lopez Brothers (Tony and Ondreaz), TikTok’s new powerhouse of influencers set a trend of exclusion.

Creators of color are consistently left out of opportunities, like the Hype House. TikTok users have complained several times about white influencers only collaborating with each other. They have also pointed out that white influencers routinely fail to credit BIPOC influencers for their dance choreography and video concepts, but continue to use them to increase their following.

There are creators of color that thrive due to their innovative comedic content like Jackie James, Strawhat Dan and Zahra. However, their notoriety did not come from producing the same kind of content as white influencers, so they are rarely given the chance to experience the same success that white influencers do. Influencers like D’Amelio and Easterling make an effort to use their platform for important issues like Black Lives Matter. However, doing it while working alongside creators such as Lil Huddy, whose presence actively combats that message, is paradoxical.

The problems with TikTok influencers don’t stop there. In addition to there being a racial divide, creators use their platforms to promote blatant negligence. A prime example is the huge birthday party influencer Bryce Hall, a member of the influencer group the Sway House, had for his 21st birthday in mid-August. None of the guests in attendance were social distancing or wearing masks, and clips of his party were posted all over social media. Hall consequently had his power cut off by the city of Los Angeles and was formally charged with defying local health orders.

However, the end result of Hall’s decision is not what his audience saw; Hall continued to post TikToks of him dancing and lip syncing with his friends. He even went as far as uploading a YouTube video where he “addressed the party” — which was really just a video of him and his friends mocking the event by dancing on countertops with masks on. There seemed to be a lack of sincere remorse for what happened. It is expected that influencers want to keep certain aspects of their lives private, but choosing to share the most negligent parts online without taking personal responsibility is absurd.

A large following can leave influencers in a vulnerable position of being watched constantly, but doing the right thing should never be determined by how many people are watching you. When it comes to morality, creators with larger platforms are expected to do more because their impact can be larger.

Influencers’ unwillingness to address their mistakes impacts their audience. With influencers continuing to ignore the controversies surrounding them and the people they hang out with, they normalize acceptance of bad behavior. Their young audience is exposed to actions without consequences. Influencers have little control over the age group of their viewers and should not have to change their content because of it, but creators should have a genuine concern for how their actions are perceived.

The lack of self awareness among these creators leaves no room for diversity in their audience. BIPOC users, like my sister, are let down time and time again by the actions of white influencers they follow and are left feeling marginalized by the inactions of the influencers’ and their friends.

Some of these TikTok influencers seem to lack a basic sense of morality. They expect to be given attention with little to no accountability involved. The bar for behavior has been set so low that not being racist or reckless is met with immense praise. It’s time we start calling out the problems these influencers cause and acknowledge that nothing about it is okay.

By Aminah Jenkins, Staff Writer


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