In a series of TikTok videos, Matt Lopes can be seen dancing with his friends to his father’s angry voicemails in a quest to gain 100,000 followers.
Lopes, a senior theatre major, stopped the series at 80,000 followers, but that number reached over 170,000 followers and almost 6 million likes on the app.
“At first it was just a place for me to upload videos that I was making with my friends, and those didn’t do well,” he says. “Then I figured out that I could take it seriously and actually become a creative person again and make my own content.”
TikTok, a social media app used for making and sharing short videos, was released in 2016 and is now known for its viral videos and new trends. The app is operated by ByteDance and has been in the news last year over national security concerns by then-President Donald Trump who attempted to ban it.
According to Business of Apps, there are over 800 million users, and Lopes is one of many to break through the clutter of social media.
Whether from his car, on campus, or at home, Lopes, or @maff.yoo as he’s known to the world of TikTok, is making what he calls relatable, but funny content, sharing his life and experiences or putting his own twists on trends.
The large following he’s amassed comes with some pressure.
“I’m literally staring at my phone an hour, two hours at a time, but I have nothing to post,” says Lopes. “The pressure does build, build, build. I sometimes have to remind myself that this is really just for fun.”
Still, Lopes has found a community on the app. His followers have sent him packages, including a painting of him and even a bag of pistachios after a joke was made that another creator stole his.
“I put pistachios on my Amazon wish list and two days later a bag of pistachios is at my front door,” he says. “I was like ‘I can’t believe it.’ I opened it up on my live and said, ‘what’s this?’ and I was silent on my live for a minute straight.”
When Aleeki Shortridge, a junior Interdisciplinary Studies major, first saw advertisements for the app she thought
it was “tacky” and “stupid.” Now as @aleekipipe on TikTok, she’s amassed over 56,000 followers and over a million likes.
“I never really did it to become famous,” says Shortridge. “I was just doing it to see what it was about and have fun with it, so I never expected any of my videos to blow up like that.”
One of Shortridge’s most viral videos was her dance to Cardi B’s “WAP” with 700,000 likes and Cardi B reposted it on her Instagram. But despite the popularity, Shortridge deleted the video due to some negative comments.
While she doesn’t mind the fame, she says she’s been “shadow-banned” from the app, which is when TikTok partially restricts a user’s account without telling them directly.
Shortridge says there are two sides that exist on the app—straight TikTok and alt TikTok—and when her videos make it over to the “straight” side, which mostly consists of dancing and popular trends, the vibe changes.
The community that exists on “alt” or alternative TikTok has embraced Shortridge. She says her followers will “hype her up,” when she does her signature white eyebrows, bright hair, and makeup.
Brooke Dauphinee, a junior psychology major, or @bvd0421 on TikTok, went viral after she posted a video of her 10-year-old sister crying after she accidentally swore while learning a dance.
“I picked up my phone, I knew something was going to happen, she’s so dramatic, and just started recording her and I got on video her running to my dad and she just was bawling,” Dauphinee says. “You would’ve thought something more serious happened.”
Now, with 88,000 followers and 3.5 million likes, Dauphinee can be seen doing dance trends with her four siblings or making videos featuring her parents.
With comments on her posts saying, “please reply,” and DM’s from other creators, she says it’s almost surreal that she has fans.
While she doesn’t consider herself to be “known” on the app, she says she loves how TikTok allows its users to build a career and create whatever they want.
“I like how literally anyone has an opportunity to get on the “For You” page, to go viral, to literally create whatever they want for themselves,” says Dauphinee, “and I like that because everyone has the opportunity.”
Lopes and Shortridge are currently part of the $2 million Creator Fund which allows users to make money off their videos, but Dauphinee says she left after it negatively impacted her views. However, all of them still have their own apprehensions about the fund.
“If you’re on the creator fund your videos don’t go on the ‘For You’ page,” Dauphinee says. “They shadow ban you in a way. I looked it up on Google and my recent video that got 1.7 million views, I wasn’t getting paid from that one.”
Now that she has left the fund, she says her views have increased.
As for the possible ban, Shortridge says Trump only targeted banning the app after several TikTok members pranked him at his June rally in Tulsa, Okla. where they registered for tickets but never showed up.
“After that happened that’s when this all started. It’s just another great display from our president,” she says sarcastically.
For Lopes, the hardest part about the app being banned would be moving his audience from the app. He says YouTube is an option, but it’s not the same as TikTok that is constantly evolving with new trends.
Even with some of the negatives that come along with being on social media, Lopes will continue to create and build a community on the app.
“The pressure to stay relevant is a task, but I don’t think it ever makes me feel like I’m not wanted on there,” says Lopes. “It’s all about the people that you meet along the way.”
By Jessica Guerrucci and Kenneth Baah