Surely there are easier ways to pad your following on Instagram than trespassing on high school grounds while disguised as a teenager. That apparently did not occur to a 28-year-old Florida woman who was arrested after infiltrating a school in Miami-Dade County for the Gram on Monday.
Really? That was your plan? Really?
The grown-ass woman in question, Audrey Francisquini, allegedly snuck into American Senior High School with a backpack, a “painting under one arm and a skateboard under the other,” according to the Washington Post. Police say she walked the halls of the school handing out fliers advertising her Instagram account before her cover was blown. Police reports state she was confronted by school security and gave the excuse that she was looking for the registration office, but continued to prowl the halls with fliers before being again confronted by security, CBS Miami reported. Francisquini fled but was subsequently arrested and charged with felony trespassing, misdemeanor interfering with a school, and nonviolently resisting arrest. One imagines handing out fliers with her social media handle on it didn’t exactly help her evade the authorities.
Francisquini is a former police officer who was fired from her job in DeKalb County, Georgia when she was arrested for allegedly accessing a female colleague’s social media accounts to post revenge porn. As of the time of the incident, she worked for Carnival Cruise lines.
According to the Post, her trip to the school somehow managed to be almost as creepy as Never Been Kissed, a 1999 movie where Drew Barrymore infiltrates a high school as an undercover reporter and is later joined in the ruse by her brother, played by David Arquette, who attends prom in his underwear:
A student told the station that Francisquini was showing off her Instagram feed, which featured videos and several images of her wearing a “devil’s mask.”
“It’s crazy. It’s very creepy,” the student said. The station showed videos from her account, in which Francisquini wore a sinister red mask with pointy ears and black horns.
TikTok is apparently the latest platform to make the shift from social media site to a glorified digital mall. On Tuesday, Bloomberg reported that TikTok has started floating the idea of in-app shopping to brands over in Europe, hoping to hook young EU shoppers—and their wallets—in the process.
According to the report, this e-shopping feature is still in the early stages, and there isn’t a set deadline when TikTokers across the globe will start seeing it crop up into their feeds. One of the brands with access to this prototype—Hype, a streetwear label that’s right at home with TikTok’s Gen-Z audience—confirmed to Bloomberg that these tests are ongoing, but wouldn’t go into details.
Bloomberg was able to see a screenshot of what Hype’s initial TikTok Shop might look like and from its description, it sounds pretty similar to the so-called “product catalogs” you’ve probably seen on your Instagram feed. These storefronts—at least at this early stage—are under a brand’s main account page, and they show off a range of merch with product pictures and prices.
These features are TikTok’s latest attempt to get a slice of the “social commerce” pie, which is the insider term for shopping that gets squeezed into a given social media platform. By the end of 2020, some analysts estimate that folks across the country spent close to $475 billion, and that number’s expected to shoot towards $585 billion by the end of this year.
TikTok has spent the better part of three years trying to make headway among the e-commerce crowd. In 2019, Levi’s became one of the first retailers to use a specific TikTok product that would slap a “shop now” button onto its ads, which would then direct those that click on it to Levi’s store. Then in 2020, TikTok began testing a similar button that would let individual creators direct their own audiences to the store of their choice. In that case, the ad revenue would be split between the creator featured in the ad, and TikTok itself. Meanwhile, the company is continuing to score deals with major names like Walmart and Elf Cosmetics, both equally ready to drop their ad dollars on the platform if it can promise some sales.
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The big difference between what these brands were offered before versus what Bloomberg’s report is describing is where this shopping happens—within TikTok’s app, rather than on some brand’s (or creator’s) site.
In a statement to Bloomberg, the company said that it had been “testing and learning with e-commerce offerings and partnerships,” and that it’s “constantly exploring” new ways to add value to its users. The company added that it will “provide updates as we explore these important avenues for our community of users, creators and brands.”
Apparently, one of those avenues is focused on earning money instead of spending it. The same day that Bloomberg’s report came out, sources familiar with the company told Axios about a pilot program designed to help brands use TikTok to scout for potential job candidates to hire. Users can present their resume in the form of a TikTok (naturally), and Axios reports that TikTok will ask these candidates to share these video resume’s on their public profiles.
In an open letter, forty-four attorneys general have beseeched Mark Zuckerberg to mercifully stop the company’s planned version of Instagram for children. Buzzfeed News discovered in March that Facebook—a company famous for platforming murderous rage and dangerous misinformation without consequence—has been developing a platform for kids under age 13, the minimum age to create an Instagram account.
Maybe the company wants to pipe dreams of sugar plum butts and monstrous trolls and freemium merriment to their sweet developing brains for…eating, presumably. Or maybe it’s staking a desperate bid to get kids on board with a company whose primary platform looks doomed to peter out with the Boomers and needs more eyeballs on Reels.
Instagram head Adam Mosseri explained to Buzzfeed that kids are breaking the rules and getting on Instagram anyway, so “part of the solution is to create a version of Instagram for young people or kids where parents have transparency or control.” Instagram-can’t-regulate-so-screw-itis also the gist of a Facebook company spokesperson’s statement shared with Gizmodo:
“As every parent knows, kids are already online,” they said, claiming that they are gathering input from “experts in child development, child safety and mental health, and privacy advocates.”
A little shade here: “We also look forward to working with legislators and regulators, including the nation’s attorneys general.” Subtext: We will destroy you.
The attorneys general are not looking forward to working with Facebook and would like Facebook not to unleash the product specifically because of proven failures like keeping kids off the platform in the first place. They cite a report finding that in 2018, UK police documented more instances of sexual grooming on Instagram than on any other platform, followed by Facebook. They also point to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, which claimed that in 2020, they received over 20 million reports of child sex abuse material across all of Facebook’s platforms.
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The NCMEC reports that the data comes almost entirely from service providers themselves, so TikTok’s relatively sterling count of around 22,700 instances could indicate that Facebook was more communicative. Still, 20 million instances, plus Facebook’s policy of fixing mistakes after everything goes to hell, should preclude getting to run a playground.
In the letter, the attorneys general also point to a recent finding that Instagram had automatically suggested weight loss search terms like “appetite suppressants” for users based on their interests. A 2017 survey by an anti-bullying charity Ditch the Label found 42% of young Instagram users had been cyberbullied on the platform, a higher percentage than on any other social media service. They add that users were able to circumvent a safety control in Messenger Kids which was supposed to limit contacts to parentally-approved friends. In fact, social media probably shouldn’t exist at all. They generally note that social media use leads to increased rates of depression, suicidal thoughts, and body dysmorphia.
There isn’t a name yet for Instagram’s child product yet, and a Facebook spokesperson told Gizmodo that it’s in the early stages of development. The spokesperson added that the company has committed today not to show any ads to people under 13.
Don’t gorge on the tempting morsels, children. You will be trapping yourself in a digital friend circle from which there is no escape. Bobby seems cool today but in 20 years he’ll be posting about adrenochrome and lizard people.
A viral TikTok video has revived the search for Sofia Juárez, a woman who was kidnapped in 2003, just before turning five. According to a police page about the case, Juárez was taken near her home in Kennewick, Washington, where she lived with her mother, grandmother, and aunts and uncles. CNN has reported thatJuárez’s mother passed away in 2009.
In the video, posted on April 15th and taken in Culiacán, Sinaloa in Mexico, she tells a man-on-the-street TikTok interviewer that she’s 22 years old, was kidnapped,and doesn’t know where she’s from.
“Aging bothers me,” she tells the interviewer, in Spanish. “I want to say hi to my tata (grandma) and my nana (mom). [Laughs]. If they are watching this show, I want them to come and get me because I have been kidnapped.”
“Er, what?” the interviewer asks. “I have not kidnapped you.”
“Well some people say I’m kidnapped, some others say I’m in Italy,” she adds. “Others that I’m in Japan. Please someone come and get me because I don’t know if I’m from here or from there.
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Evidently, the TikToker didn’t take down her contact information. (Gizmodo has reached out to both the Kennewick police and the TikTok personality.)
It’s unclear how Washington state investigators connected the video to Juárez, but she bears a strong resemblance to the child, and the video has over 166,000 views. They hope to perform a DNA test. Kennewick police have provided age-progression photographs:
Kennewick Police Special Investigator Al Wehner told CNN that they’ve received fishy calls from unidentified people claiming to be Juárez’s family, asking that they stop circulating the video. They say that they’re in touch with close family members.
TikTok, a gathering place for the victims of moldavite’s curse and misfired hexes, is now also your source for mystic strings of numbers 4 manifesting the elusive blessings of the universe. The kids are sharing Grabovoi numbers, the cheat codes 2 the universe. If you think on them hard enough, the numbers will bring you good grades, weight loss, and much success in business endeavors. It’s the same thing as chain mail content from the late nineties, but this actually wØrks. [ed. note: It does not work.]
A search for the #grabovoicode hashtag pulls up hundreds and hundreds of videos, with an aggregate of 56.5 million views.
They more or less follow the format of this video of text overlaid on footage of a floral duvet cover, to dreamy trance music, with the header:
CHEAT CODES FOR MANIFESTATIONS!!! PART 2
(you can write them down, say them out loud, write them in the air, put them as ur phone’s pass, put them under ur pillow, etc.)
these changed my LIFE. 😫
And then they show you the codes.
706485425 : business success
960745288 : academic success
26608934 : fame
87316 : weight loss
5294361 : love
2017133 : luck
487042169 : happiness 🙁
83609348 : grow taller
66940233 : shifting
There are more, very specific codes to *~maniFe5t~* your desires, including small perks like hair growth, nail growth, acne, clear skin, and, uh, curing cancer and AIDS (at least according to a numerology site).
The codes’ efficacy is unproven.
One TikToker claims to have “manifested over $2,000 in unexpected cash,” another got an offer for a car (from their grandmother), another combined crystals with a code on paper and was offered a better-paying job and got a free accidental iPad from Amazon. Seems like writing them on the inner wrist is popular, though some insist that speaking them is the only way, and others instruct viewers to write them on scrap paper along with their date of birth.
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If you’re wondering why, for the love of God, the teens held out on us for a whole year, the codes have been circulating off TikTok for some time. The numbers come from contemporary Russian numerologist healer Grigory Grabovoi, who has reportedly described himself as the second coming of Christ and has been described elsewhere as a cult leader. Grabovoi served a few years in prison for charging bereaved parents $1,500 per resurrection of children killed in a military assault on a school.
So take that information and do what you want with it. (And please don’t write your social security number down for a TikTok video. I don’t know why you would, but this seems logical in numbers activation.) I will absorb TikTok’s tales of riches in my mindspace, for they bring me joy, and I’d like a free iPad.
As more and more social media platforms start cooking up their own Clubhouse clones, Instagram is adding new features to its existing livestreaming service to get in on the voice chat craze. On Thursday, Instagram announced it’s rolling out the option to turn off your audio or video while using Instagram Live.
Instagram tested these new features publically on Monday during an Instagram Live broadcast between Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram. Starting today, global audiences on both iOS and Android will have access to them too.
“We want to build on our Live product and offer even more ways for our creator community to drive serendipitous, engaging conversation with each other and their audience,” a company spokesperson told Gizmodo via email. “By giving people the option to mute their audio or turn off their video, hosts will have the added flexibility for their livestream experience, as the added functionality could help decrease pressure to look or sound a certain way while broadcasting live.”
As for now, broadcasters won’t be able to turn on or off the video or mute others in their livestreams, but Instagram said it’s working on adding these kinds of options soon.
In a similar move, Instagram’s parent company Facebook added Live Audio Rooms to its platform and Messenger app back in March. It also has a Clubhouse-inspired Q&A platform called Hotline in the works.
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LinkedIn, Twitter, Slack, and a slew of other online platforms have jumped at the chance to develop their own voice chat features in recent months, trying to capitalize on the relaxed, “video off” experience popularized by Clubhouse.
Whether or not it’s just a flash in the pan remains to be seen, but Clubhouse’s investors sure seem to have faith in its staying power. The company was reportedly valued at roughly $4 billion amid negotiations with investors during a round of funding earlier this month. However, Clubhouse’s explosive growth is starting to show signs of waning, Insider reports. According to data from app analytics firm Sensor Tower, the number of monthly app installs worldwide tanked between February and March, from 9.6 million downloads to 2.7 million downloads respectively.
Clubhouse’s rise in popularity has been partially tied to the coronavirus pandemic keeping many people stuck inside and pushing them toward socially distanced opportunities, such as public audio chatrooms, to connect. With the world slowly beginning to open back up again as vaccines roll out, it appears Clubhouse shtick may be wearing thin for some users.
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Thoren Bradley can be found in dozens of TikTok videos chopping wood in his backyard in rural Northern California, surrounded by evergreen woods with a swimming pool of sky overhead. The 29-year-old is colorfully tattooed with a well-groomed beard and gym-honed physique that frequently inspires viewers to leave lustful comments, such as “just here for the hard wood.” Often, he’s wearing black Carhartt overalls and a clinging white tee, but sometimes he forgoes the shirt.
He’ll raise his axe over the top of his head and bring it down on a cross-section of tree that splits in one fell swoop. It’s typically set to a cinematic soundtrack—in one, country singer Chris Stapleton croons, “You’re as sweet as strawberry wine.” He might saunter shirtless into his cozy homestead to lounge with a pair of scruffy dogs next to his wood fireplace. In his charming kitchen, he dices bell pepper and fries up eggs, before doing the dishes, shirtless. Bradley paints doors, replaces lights, and lays wood flooring, which he then mops himself.
These homesteadingvideoshave earned Bradley nearly 2 million followers. Several of his wood-chopping clips have tipped 1 million views—a recent one boasts 3.4 million.
Bradley’s videos are remarkably popular, but he’s just one of countless men on TikTok producing content that falls within the romance-to-thirst-trap spectrum. These creators aren’t just offering straightforward eye candy, many specialize in titillating their audiences emotionally. They dabble in the erotic and the romantic, often explicitly targeting an audience of straight women. As short and PG-13 as these clips are, they are rich in fantasy, escapism, and aspiration. Men lip-sync scenes from The Notebook, act out moments of love at first sight, and offer up the point-of-view experience of a handsome man in a suit bringing a bouquet of roses to the door. Many flirt with raunchier fare, snapping their belts at the camera, mouthing lines from Netflix’s infamously terrible 365 DNI, and, occasionally, humping the bed like a boy band member at the turn of the millennia.
It’s a hectic virtual collage of Hollywood archetypes, sexy Tumblr GIFs, Fifty Shades of Grey, and that 2007 joke book Porn for Women, which pictured men vacuuming and cooking dinner. Some of these creators intersperse POV eye-gazing clips, where they seem to stare right into the viewer’s eyes, with relationship advice or daily livestreams where they commiserate with women about their treatment by men.
This TikTok genre could be seen as yet another artifact in the never-ending debates around “female desire” and “what women want.” In many ways, though, the videos are more telling of their creators. Grappling with the tenuousness of modern masculinity, the men who film them are working around enduring demands of toughness, stoicism, and aggression, alongside unsteadily shifting expectations of beauty, sensitivity, and domesticity, traits typically associated with women. This may seem like a positive evolution of gendered possibility, and yet Bradley is routinely met with commenters’ injunctions around what it means to be a “real man.”
Of course, traditional masculinity is defined in dichotomous opposition to traditional femininity. Judging from viewer responses, any hint of commingling is just as liable to be celebrated as shot down as unmanly.
There is an inherent tension even just in stepping in front of the camera—tension that surfaces within creators and in the sometimes punishing responses to their content. As the art critic John Berger famously said, “Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.” But these men are asking for women to look at them, and they are to various degrees stepping into the passive object role. In performing a masculine fantasy, especially while centering themselves in the frame, there is the ever-present and highly subjective threat of a misstep. It’s a tightrope walk of heart-eyes and laugh-cry emojis, popularity and diminishment, connection and alienation.
As Bradley puts it, “I’ve been living on this line my whole life of what masculinity even fucking means in the first place.”
I was probably watching a baby cow running in a field or a woman sneaking into the shower with her husband while wearing a Halloween mask when I first stumbled into the realm of POV eye-gazing clips. Suddenly, there was this tousle-haired 2o-something man staring into my eyes, raising his eyebrows subtly, like he was trying to tell me something. He looked away coyly, then he looked back, as the corner of his mouth trembled into a shy half-smile. It reminded me of my pubescent early-internet downloads of movie trailers: I would isolate small scenes of romantic intrigue—double-takes of attraction, lust at first sight—and rewind and rewind and rewind. These weren’t big moments of rapture, but rather the everyday, relatable spark of attraction.
There is a subset of these POV experiences created by teen boys for teen girls, but my feed was soon taken over by videos produced by men for women.
Jacob Rott, a 21-year-old university student in Germany, specializes in videos simulating these prosaic experiences of flirtation. In one, he pretends to spot a cute new virtual classmate on Zoom while singing the lyrics, “I can’t stop myself from looking and noticing you, noticing me.” His videos have captions like, “Pov: fell in love with a stranger” and “pov: you’re my girlfriend.” Similar creators film themselves checking out or lusting after the viewer, sometimes confessing love. Often it’s lip-synced to a scene from a movie or TV show—a popular one being a moment of unreciprocated longing on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. “I try to make videos with content people can identify with,” he says. “That’s the key to getting interaction.”
It’s important, says Rott, to create scenarios that are “based in reality” but also have an element of fantasy—say, running into your crush and having them get flustered, too. Rott says that the majority of his fans are between the ages of 18 and 24. But it isn’t just early 20-somethings watching these kinds of videos.
Other creators, including James Joseph, a 33-year-old actor and model in Hollywood, find themselves with a fanbase of married women in their 30s and 40s. During quarantine, Joseph had to start filming most of his acting auditions himself at home. “Since I’m already in front of my lights with my camera on a tripod, why not just make some TikTok videos?” he said of the thought process that led him to start an account a couple months ago.
Soon, he says, “I fell into the niche of having a large female following and figuring out what they wanted,” which led to what he calls “cute little scenes.” Joseph often dresses up in a sharp suit—in a couple he brings roses to the viewer, as if on a first date. In one, he simply walks in the front door to a Michael Bublé song, and tells the viewer, stunned, “Wow, you look amazing.” He lip syncs to Ryan Gosling saying in The Notebook, “Tell me what you want and I’ll be that for you.”
Many of the TikTok scenarios on offer adhere to traditional heterosexual scripts quite literally, as in the case of lip-syncing Hollywood films. Given that, it is unsurprising that the popular standouts of this genre reflect a fundamental bias: Judging by the videos algorithmically served up to me, it is overwhelmingly white. For all the talk of TikTok democratizing entertainment, my feed mirrors fixed notions of just who gets to be a leading man.
Not all of Joseph’s content obviously draws on his acting: One of his most popular videos, with 5.7 million views, shows him simply switching, through the magic of editing, out of a t-shirt and sweats into a sharp tuxedo. “They love, love outfit changes,” he says. “They just like a well-dressed man.”These outfit changes, though, tap into romantic types that are highly familiar to Joseph, who has auditioned for Hallmark films and appeared on the covers of romance novels.
He speculates that the appeal for viewers is the fantasy of having a relationship with a thoughtful, well-dressed man. But, much as he is acting on TikTok, he isn’t falsely portraying a romantic illusion, he says. “It is genuine,” explains Joseph. “Opening doors and things like that, chivalry, those are the things I believe in, and that, in my life, have been welcomed with open arms. Not a lot of men do that, and I like to keep it alive.” Keeping it alive has gained him nearly half a million followers, roughly 90 percent of them women, he says.
That said, one of the most popular themes in this realm taps into more dominant and aggressive visions of masculinity. “My audience likes the character that I portray—being confident, looking at the camera, licking my teeth, smiling,” says Dean, who has filmed videos with themes of kink.Anything relating to 50 Shades of Grey does well, he says. In one popular video, he lip-syncs these lines read from a poem, “I will destroy you in the most beautiful way possible. And, when I leave, you will finally understand why storms are named after people.” In another he mouths, “Have you ever looked at someone… and fucked the shit out of them in your head?” One of Dean’s signature moves is slowly running his tongue over his teeth. “It tends to be quite a turn-on for some people,” he says. “Maybe it looks suggestive, it looks sexy?”
Recently, Dean posted a video with a younger friend and fellow TikToker, while pretending to be father and son. All they did was stand next to each other and look into the camera smiling to a soundtrack of a woman singing, “Let me show you what you’re missing: paradise.” Meanwhile, text on-screen read, “Father & Son Duo.” Viewers loved it. “I’m so glad I’m at the age where I can gladly and comfortably say I would love to be RAILED by both of them,” wrote one woman. Another said: “I’m not sure if I wanna be a step mom or daughter in law.”
Somewhat contrary to the faux father-son eye-winking and lip-syncs about destruction, Dean also hosts twice-daily livestreams where he chats with his mostly women fans about the challenges of life, including mistreatment by men. “A lot of men out there, the way they treat women, it’s disgusting,” he says.
This recalls the 2019 documentary Jawline, which follows the 16-year-old up-and-coming influencer Austyn Tester as he livestreams with his teen girl fans, talking to each as if she were his girlfriend. At a culminating meet-and-greet, his fans are portrayed as “uniformly depressed,” as the New Yorker’s Doreen St. Félix put it. “Some admit to cutting themselves. They say that, at school, they’re bullied,” wrote St. Félix. “But Tester doesn’t treat them like the other boys do. He loves them, through the screen.” While Dean’s fanbase is comprised of adult women, there is a similar dynamic at play: many are seeking out the kindness, consideration, and attention that they have not found in real life, specifically with men.
Dean went through a devastating divorce, he’s been through therapy, and he’s gotten in touch with his feelings, he tells me. In one TikTok clip, he tears up while taking his cat to the vet. Some of Dean’s fans consume just his raunchy content, some watch just the tender stuff, and a few overlap with both. “I think it’s refreshing for women to see that I can be sexy, I can be suggestive, but at the same time, they can have a conversation with me about emotions,” says Dean, who also posts motivational clips. “You can have the greatest, filthiest, naughtiest sex of your life, but you still want the man to open the door for you and buy you some flowers and come in and kiss you on the forehead.”
The axe-wielding Bradley accompanies his most popular wood-chopping fare with occasional tidbits of advice on relationships and self-esteem. “Clinging to somebody’s redeeming qualities just to stay in a relationship is kind of like buying a house because you really like the Persian rug that was in the den… the whole thing has to make sense for you to stay,” he says in one. In another video, he tells the camera, “When that person that was underperforming finally left your life, it got better, but lingering on that disappointment and anger is keeping you from feeling what better actually is.”
Taken together, this wide-ranging genre reveals women’s fantasies of being wooed and worshiped, wanted and taken, heard and understood.
It’s notable for a man to center himself in the camera’s frame in this way: they are surveying and cultivating themselves, frequently for women. Of course, a version of this is on display on countless dating profiles: the intentional construction of a desirable self alongside a flash of abdominals. But these TikTokers are presenting themselves as, not just worthy of a hypothetical right swipe, but as the worthy object of a woman’s entertainment, fantasies, or aspirations. Many accounts fall somewhere between Hallmark movie and pornographic OnlyFans.
While these creators highlight their own beauty, whether it’s a pair of intense blue eyes or a six-pack, they typically rely on storyline. Some dabble in broader viral trends of unrepentant horniness, like the silhouettechallenge, which saw people stripping down with a signature filter. I would be remiss to not mention the pussy-eating challenge, which sees men flicking their tongue to an impressively fast beat as a cunnilingual boast. The most consistent frisson, though, is one of context: the boy from class who can’t stop looking at you, or the man in the woods scrambling up eggs for a breakfast by the fire.
Researchers studying self-reported responses to heterosexual pornography, or “visual sexual stimuli,” have found that “both men and women project themselves into the scenario,” but that “men may be more likely to objectify the actors within the stimuli.” Reviewing related research, the same study speculated that women may pay more attention to context and non-sexual details, like clothing or background, “allowing for the creation of a social scenario.” Of course, if this is true, a host of social and cultural factors are undoubtedly at play, including gendered notions of men as sexual spectators. The question is never just what women want, as though that emerges in a vacuum, but what they are taught to want and what they feel safe wanting.
Dean has an OnlyFans where he posts nude photos, but his audience there is almost all men. In contrast, his TikTok fanbase is overwhelmingly women. “I think women want a more personal interaction,” he said.
Inevitably, a man offering himself for a woman’s consumption in this way threatens popular notions of masculinity. Many of these TikTokers toy with the “men act and women appear” maxim, tweaking the levels. The wildly popular Bradley often captures himself voyeuristically, his gaze ignoring the camera in favor of the wood-chopping or floor-sweeping task at hand. This seems a frequent requirement of the genre: Men act and appear. Still, Bradley says women will leave comments like, “This would be a lot manlier if you didn’t turn it into a TikTok.” His videos are sometimes met with explicit gender policing: Bradley shaves his legs to appear in fitness photoshoots, and it garners disparaging responses from some commenters, while others find it sexy.
It’s typically women who deliver criticism in his comments. “You’re finding these weird polar opposites of perspective of what a man should be or is,” he said. Some proclaim his muscular, wood-chopping image an example of “toxic masculinity,” while he says others, not infrequently, remark things like, “That’s not a manly man. Men don’t have abs. Men aren’t tan.” Being the subject of such public masculine parsing can be challenging. “If I was somebody who was any more insecure, if you caught me at around 19 or 20 years old, I would be really struggling right now,” he says. “It’s an everyday struggle for me to even figure out what being a man means.”
These men are rewarded with views and follows for traditionally masculine traits, from muscular physiques to chivalrous overtures, alongside displays of emotional intelligence and domestic responsibility. That alone is experienced by some as a careful, uncertain balance. “The world that I grew up in, masculinity was all about going to work, getting your hands dirty, you get a 9-to-5 job right when you graduate high school. Your aspirations are low, make the paycheck come home,” said Bradley, who got his master’s degree in exercise physiology and works as a strength and conditioning coach at a university. “You’re a man if you don’t complain. It’s a big part of the DNA of who I am.” At the same time, he says, “I do my dishes, I wash my clothes, and do stuff the stereotypical man isn’t exactly proud of doing.”
It’s an even trickier balance when a man is asking to be looked at. “He wants attention, he wants likes, there’s obviously something off about him,” says Bradley of the criticism he fields in comments threads.
In a recent video of Joseph in a suit, several commenters seized on the fact of him wearing loafers without socks. “GET A PAIR OF SOCKS ON!!!,” wrote one woman. “asking for a redo *with socks,*” commented another. Then he filmed a new version of the clip. “With socks,” he wrote, followed by a socks emoji and a sweating smiling face. Another popular TikToker posted a video of himself rubbing, seemingly naked, against his bed. While several woman responded with heart-eye emojis and the like, many others did the equivalent of pointing and laughing. One woman tagged several friends to write, “this ruined my day so I’m ruining yours.”
These critiques, which range from the superficially sartorial to the deeply gendered, seem an extension of the everyday experiences of women, who typically occupy the passive role, but they also specifically engage uneasily with tensions around masculinity andobjectification.
Sometimes, they take on the sexually aggressive nature of catcalling. A 2013 study on behavior at “male strip shows” suggested that women are often emboldened to “act wild, assertive, and free to perform their gender differently than they do on a day-to-day basis.” It’s what scholars call “gender role transcendence.” The researchers write, “When women experience gender role transcendence they behave in ways that mimic male stereotypes, and act contrary to how they would in the presence of their husbands, partners, or boyfriends.” It’s transcendence of an assigned role, but not of the script.
Women’s raunchy TikTok commentary is common enough to have spawned its own genre: The creator behind the popular account @savagemomlife, which boasts 1.8 million followers, specializes in highlighting women’s outrageously thirsty comments. Often she’s summoned with at-mentions multiple times in the threads on videos that fall within the thirst-trap-to-romance spectrum. In one such video of a man seemingly ready to make love to his duvet cover, a sampling of viewer comments: “Pretty sure I just felt my tubes untie,” “I don’t usually chase anyone but for you I’d put my crocs in sports mode,” “I unexpectedly started to ovulate after seeing this 1000 TIMES,” and “boy u gotta stop my kitten is sore!!!!!” Joseph says of commenters, “Oh my god, they really go in. They’ll say things like, ‘I’m pregnant now after watching your videos.’ I try not to respond to any of those comments.”
Unlike the other TikTokers, Bradley’s audience is nearly evenly split between men and women, but it’s the latter who are often most visible in his comments threads, making remarks like “I need a ventilator” and “You are getting all the housewives in trouble.” A popular remark: “theRe is Absolutely nothIng speciaL about this CoMmEnt” (i.e. RAIL ME). Married women in particular are his most vocal demographic, he says. A common trope is women remarking that their husbands are wondering why they’re hearing the same snippet of audio over and over again as they play his videos on loop. Jokes about infidelity are common.
Reading through these comments is to witness women raunchily pushing up against the boredom and disappointments of domesticity.
As much as the men I spoke with said they didn’t feel objectified by fans’ attention, several did express feelings of alienation. “Sometimes I think they’re too good,” says the 21-year-old Rott of the positive messages he gets from women fans on TikTok. “At the beginning, it was a very good feeling.” Now, though, he says, “It doesn’t make me happy like it did at the beginning. It makes you kind of cold, emotionally. It’s hard to keep up the emotion.” Recently, he’s been getting as many as 15 fan messages an hour.
“I know they just want my outward appearance,” he said. “They don’t know anything more about me. I didn’t tell them about me or my ambitions or my opinions.” Fans will even send him marriage proposals. “It’s not me,” he says of the image they’re lusting after. Similarly, Joseph says, “I like it when people are like, ‘Oh, you’re so creative’—that I like more than just, ‘You’re hunky’ or whatever,” he says. “They realize that I’m creative. I like those.”
Bradley is a realist about what draws in his viewers. “I don’t think a lot of people give a shit about what I have to say it’s just, ‘Take your shirt off and show us what you look like,’” he said. “The videos where I give people my opinion or share some of my expertise are never going to do as well as the videos where I’m shirt off, doing stuff outside. It is what it is.” He adds, “It’s assumed that I’m really fucking stupid most of the time.” His hope, though, is to use the shirtless wood-chopping videos to pull in a smaller percentage of viewers who are receptive to his messages around healthy relationships and self-acceptance.
“I keep sneaking it in, hoping that it will grab a few people,” he says. “I have to increase my platform to reach more ears, change more lives, and the best way for me to do so is with a bigger billboard. There might be something sinister about me taking advantage of the system, but that’s gonna be the way I get my voice out there.”
Clubhouse is prodigious. At just over a year old, the exclusive, invite-only app still doesn’t have a proper website or even an app on more than a single operating system. What it lacks in usability, though, the app store chart-topper makes up in celebrity cachet, millions of users, and access to a seemingly endless spigot of funds.
The platform offers audio-only chat rooms with hosts who talk and up to thousands of guests who listen—kind of like a live podcast with audience participation in a gated online community. For a lot of folks, the phenomenon of Clubhouse’s meteoric rise and the backdrop of an ongoing global pandemic are somewhat inextricable.
“You have to wonder whether [Clubhouse] would be this appealing in any other year,” mused Ana Milicevic, co-founder of the Manhattan-based tech advisory firm Sparrow Advisers. With in-person events canceled and most socializing limited to virtual, the success of the app certainly benefitted from quarantined users with sudden time to try out a new social app.
What isn’t certain—though there are theories—is how Clubhouse plans to survive if those funding spigots are shut off or whether it can sustain the hype.
Grow first, profit later
Before we talk about the millions of users (and counting) that are on the app, we need to talk about why so many of them flocked there to begin with. First, it debuted in Apple’s Testflight program in April 2020: the same month that states across the country began going under lockdown. By the time that the platform appeared in the App Store in October 2020 as something that anyone could download, it had racked up 10,000 users.
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As Milicevic pointed out, when Clubhouse began gaining a foothold with its initial user base, it wasn’t because the app was doing anything cutting-edge. Audio-based chatrooms have been the bread and butter of platforms like Discord and Skype for years at this point. Where Clubhouse did have the upper hand was exclusivity. True to its name, the only way to get into the club is knowing someone already inside—or even buying an invite from some kindly entrepreneurial stranger.
Clubhouse certainly isn’t the first app to foster a kind of exclusivity from the get-go. When Google first rolled out Gmail way, way back in 2004, the company lacked the reliable infrastructure needed to, say, offer unlimited storage to millions of people. Instead, Google gave about 1,000 people access to their new mail product and gave those exclusive few the ability to invite their family and friends. As it turns out, rolling out the product in this way accidentally turned into what one Google employee called “one of the best marketing decisions in tech history.” When access to a hot new piece of tech is only afforded to a select few, it leaves a sense of white-hot FOMO among those on the outside looking in. Some techies have even pointed out that being outside the Clubhouse bubble in 2021 feels not unlike being outside the Gmail bubble in the early 2000s.
“There’s a lot to be said about momentum in [the app] space,” Milicevic said. “Your ability to acquire new users—especially without paying through the roof for them—is directly related to your ability to survive.” Instead of pouring money into advertising itself, Clubhouse let others do the job by hosting influencer-driven events with massive, built-in audiences.
The first few people Clubhouse brought on board happened to be sort of people that would draw tons of users: preexisting cults of personality in the tech sector that already have a built-in audience on platforms like Twitter: think Oprah, Lindsay Lohan, and—naturally—Elon Musk, whose Clubhouse debut brought in so much traffic that the app short-circuited.
What drew Musk (and some of the other major names in tech) to Clubhouse in the first place is still an open question, though justabouteveryone agrees it has something to do with Silicon Valley superfirm Andreesen Horowitz—known as a16z for short. Founders Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz don’t only host their own podcasts on the platform and act as the tireless hype men for other people’s content, but they’re also largely responsible for bankrolling the app, leading two multi-million dollar funding rounds that helped push Clubhouse’s valuation to roughly $1 billion by early 2021.
“Clubhouse could not have come at a better time for social media,” wrote a16z partner Andrew Chen about one of the firms funding rounds earlier this year. “It reinvents the category in all the right ways, from the content consumption experience to the way people engage each other while giving power to its creators. It’s a fresh experience that brings humanity and context to online social engagement.”
Key to that “experience” Chen referred to in his post is the platform’s decision to forgo the traditional money-making methods that have turned companies like Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube into multi-billion dollar behemoths: targeted advertising. Rather than attempt to turn a profit right out the gate, the app made it through its first birthday riding entirely on VC capital—a tactic that might sound risky but is actually pretty common among the tech set.
“Because of the relatively accessible—and relatively large—sums of VC money in the U.S. ecosystem, we can afford to develop platforms that amass a large audience and then figure out monetization later,” Milicevic explained. “This isn’t a luxury for companies in Europe—the funding ecosystem is just different, and forces companies into getting to monetization faster.”
“That’s just poor design,” Milicevic added, referring broadly to grow-first strategies. “Inevitably, you’re going to end up making trade-offs that aren’t in line with your user-base.”
That is perhaps what’s happening with Telegram after its decision to adopt targeted advertising after going eight years being largely reliant on founder Pavel Durov’s own savings. Durov even had to explain himself, attempting to convince users not to “worry” about the ads.
Clubhouse’s creator contingency
When Clubhouse confirmed that it netted a $100 million funding round from a16z back in January, it noted that an unspecified chunk of that change went into creating an internal “Creator Grant Program” meant to fund a select group Clubhouse creators and ideally keep them from flocking to the copycat apps that are quickly cropping up on the horizon. Earlier this month, the company’s Creator First accelerator program rolled out in full, promising that 20 of the app’s creators could qualify for funding to help them, as the company put it, “host amazing conversations [and] build their audience” on the app.
Meanwhile, Clubhouse CEO Paul Davison’s previously hinted that the app’s creators might actually be funded by their own fanbase in the future, through features like subscriptions, ticketed events, and even direct tips.
If you’re wondering why Clubhouse is pouring this many resources into its creator economy when there’s always the very real risk that the economy won’t pan out as planned, look no further than Vine. Previous reports have pointed out that the largely creator-driven app snubbed a 2015 request from its top stars for a $1.2 million payout. Pretty soon after, a third of Vine’s creators left the app, which likely contributed to the app’s unceremonious collapse one year later.
A year later, we got another cautionary tale when report after report bubbled up describing Snapchat’s relatively chilly relationship with its influencer base. Naturally, a glut of influencers jumped ship for competitors like Instagram Stories, leading to a stock slump that translated to Snapchat bleeding hundreds of millions of dollars over the course of the following year.
“If you’re not going to start off with monetization, then you have to gear your company towards aggressive growth,” Milicevic said. “And if that aggressive growth slows down for whatever reason, well… you’re in a really really tough spot.”
Considering how people are quite literally falling over each other to get access to this app, it might be hard to imagine its growth sputtering anytime soon. That said, it’s worth remembering that this app is still (technically)in beta. Until now, the company was without a proper website or even a proper app in anything but the iOS operating system—though this week the company announced we should be getting a Clubhouse app on Android before the year’s end.
Meanwhile, the app’s veneer of exclusivity is starting to wane, disenchanting some of its formerly die-hard users. On the unofficial Clubhouse subreddit, some whispered disappointment about what they see as the platform’s slow evolution from professional network to something akin to a bizarre, audio-only Omegle where you end up in a room with a bunch of strangers and, potentially, weirdos. Without high-profile influencers to keep its core audience coming back, then, well. It could be RIP Clubhouse.
Even without a potential user exodus, Clubhouse’s ballooning user base comes with headaches of its own. Back in February, a report from the Stanford Internet Observatory revealed that the glut of the actual “tech” underlying the Clubhouse app was actually licensed from a third-party company—the Shanghai-based startup Agora. From that relationship, one user did some back of the napkin math to estimate what Clubhouse might be paying Agora to keep its app up and running. The costs? $1.4 million per month, assuming that there are two million users spending an average of three hours per week plugged into the platform. And if Clubhouse stays on this trajectory, those costs are only going to keep climbing—meaning that the company will need to figure out how to cash out on its users, and fast.
The good news is there are plenty of options.
What a Clubhouse consumer cash-out could look like
The first possibility is also arguably the most straightforward: just start charging people to access particular panels, or charging people for the Clubhouse equivalent of a backstage pass to talk with a speaker one-on-one before they hit the main stage in front of hundreds—if not thousands—of fellow Clubhousers.
“Here’s one way to think about it: Say Elon Musk is speaking, and you really want a smaller, more intimate chat—like say, with 100 other people—before he takes the main stage in front of 5,000,” said Debra Aho Williamson, a principal analyst with eMarketer. “I think people would pay to make that happen.”
Say what you will about Musk’s cavalcade of fans, they’re nothing if not extremely devoted to Tesla’s self-appointed Technoking. We’ve seen countless members from the fold pour upwards of $10,000 into Tesla stocks, even when some don’t even own one of the electric vehicles themselves. Earlier this week, one scammer masquerading as Musk managed to con a fanboy out of $560,000. While Williamson hasn’t calculated what the price point of a service like this would be, it’s safe to say that it would be pretty high up there.
Then there are the brands. In spite of the overt lack of advertising, we’ve seen a slew of major brands start shuffling themselves onto the platform and striking up deals with influencers that are already there. Earlier this month, a handful of these creators that had previously worked with major names like Netflix, Cashapp, and Showtime actually rolled out their own marketing agency specifically catered towards what can only be called “branded audio events.” Not long after, another Clubhouse user-created “Clubmarket”: a self-described “sponsorship marketplace” that—as the name implies—lets creators shop around for Clubhouse sponsorships that can potentially net them thousands of dollars depending on the room. Others have pointed out that in these sorts of branded deals, all Clubhouse needs to do is nab itself a commission.
What Williamson doesn’t see working is the typical banner ads that we’ve come to associate with other major platforms—both because targeted ads are kind of the worst, and because Clubhouse has kind of cemented its reputation as being a staunchly anti-ad platform.
That said, a middle-ground she could see working are the kind of ads you’d typically associate with podcast feeds: mid-roll spots that the announcer reads out (and potentially riffs over), perhaps bundled with a special promo for the people listening. These sorts of ads are gaining steam among advertisers, and fast, meaning that Clubhouse could snag some of that ad spend for itself.
Whatever approach Clubhouse lands on, it might want to act quickly. As its exclusivity steadily drains, another finite resource may soon become limited, post-pandemic—our time.
Facebook, the social media behemoth that owns Instagram, is developing a new Instagram product for children under 13 years of age, according to leaked documents obtained by BuzzFeed. Instagram users must currently click a button declaring that they’re at least 13 years old, or that the account featuring a kid under the age of 13 is “managed” by an adult.
“I’m excited to announce that going forward, we have identified youth work as a priority for Instagram and have added it to our H1 priority list,” an Instagram executive wrote to employees on Thursday, according to a message reviewed by BuzzFeed.
The term “youth work,” appears to refer to work by Instagram employees on providing tech platforms for youth user, not putting youth to work, as it were. However, we can’t take anything for granted when it comes to a company like Facebook’s ethical guidelines.
“We will be building a new youth pillar within the Community Product Group to focus on two things,” the internal message to Instagram employees continued. “(a) accelerating our integrity and privacy work to ensure the safest possible experience for teens and (b) building a version of Instagram that allows people under the age of 13 to safely use Instagram for the first time.”
Facebook did not respond to a request for comment sent late Thursday but did confirm to other news outlets, such as Australia’s ABC News, that it was indeed working on an Instagram product for children. The company did not elaborate on the kinds of things that would differentiate an Instagram For Kids product from regular Instagram.
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BuzzFeed notes that one of the people spearheading the project, Pavni Diwanji, previously worked on YouTube’s controversial kids product while at Google. YouTube Kids has served as a gateway to grown-up YouTube, a smart strategy for monopolistic companies looking to expand market share.
It’s long been said that social media is the new smoking and this heightened focus on children would seem to give more ammunition to that thesis. Tobacco companies spent the 1970s and 80s marketing their product to kids in an effort to create a new generation of smokers as the negative health effects of smoking became better understood and led people to quit the product. Tobacco ads on TV and radio were banned in 1971, but it wasn’t until the 1990s when there was a concerted effort to crack down on tobacco marketing in the U.S., with a ban on tobacco billboards starting in 1999.
Anti-advertising advocates have long worried about the kinds of messages that kids have been receiving, whether it’s about tobacco or particularly sugary food. But messages about the dangers of social media haven’t been spread with the same cohesive and well-funded movements that emerged like the anti-tobacco organizations of the 1990s.
It obviously remains to be seen what kind of product an Instagram for kids might look like, but we can expect Big Tech to make a concerted effort to find new demographics in the coming years. And, to be frank, there’s not a lot of money in getting Grandma on your social media platform. Aside from being very set in their ways, and by extension their buying habits, making them less attractive to advertisers, it’s much more lucrative to get a child addicted to your product because they’re more likely to use it for life. Again, it’s one of the great lessons from Big Tobacco.