The micro-influencer hashtag on TikTok has 132.3M views, with most videos provide tips and tricks to increase your following on social media. The first basic steps are lighting, hashtags, and consistency. Then in a matter of weeks, maybe even days, companies will be sliding in your DMs begging to send you free clothes or be cast in their fall campaign. It seems easy enough, especially since the barrier to entry is as low as 1,000 followers and even less, to be considered an influencer. Unfortunately, these myths have led many aspiring teens astray and have caused them to question their beauty or creative abilities. The truth is nine out of ten times, people with a platform were already in a position to have that platform due to systemic circumstances such as wealth, “beauty,” and privilege.
Many popular ice cream cake decorating TikTok accounts make their videos at work, such as Cold Stone or Dairy Queen. Teens or adults often run these accounts who work for minimum wage at these establishments. On the surface, this narrative supports the idea that anyone can become an influencer and make some extra cash through the TikTok creator fund or brand deals. They are also supporting the common belief that TikTok’s unique algorithm allows for the making of instant stars, hopefully bringing about many “rags to riches” stories from future creators. Yet when you take a second and pull back the curtain on a lot of these accounts, you’ll notice that this narrative is nothing more than fiction. These popular TikTokers end up being the store owner’s child or close friend, such as @miladmirg, who gained 4.5M followers on TikTok while working at the Subway his parents own. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it does show the privilege needed to make TikTok videos at work- especially in an environment where you are handling food. While an Ancaster teen gained TikTok fame from decorating ice cream cakes at the Dairy Queen her parents’ own across the world, another teen was fired from Chic-Fil-A for sharing drink ordering hacks. It extends beyond the food industry – a University of Ohio student was fired from Sherwin-Williams after his TikTok account amassed 1.4M followers from paint mixing videos.
Unfortunately, social media is often a reflection and amplifier of our broken society. Of course, the owner’s son has no problem pulling his phone out at work, asking for help to record, and spending extra time decorating a cake for the sake of likes and views. A young teen that helps out with paying the bills wouldn’t dare to do that out of fear of getting fired. A mother who depends on her job to make ends meet wouldn’t even try. Privilege, nepotism, access to resources, and time have all leaked into our algorithms, not only creating digital glass ceilings but also contributing further to the wealth disparity in the United States.