TikTok's teenagers want to be famous. But at what price?

"Chasing Fame" marks the premiere episode of the new CBS Reports documentary series, "Are the Kids All Right?" This documentary explores the transformative shifts today's youth face in their own words. You can watch it in the video player below, or stream it live on Sunday, April 24, at 8 p.m. ET and on demand via the CBS News app or Paramount+.

TikTok's teenagers want to be famous. But at what price?

Jiggy Turner is the most famous person in West Virginia. Or at least, he thinks he is.

He said, "I mean social media-wise. I'm most famous." But there's Steve Harvey. He's also pretty well-known."

Turner reached over 600,000 people on TikTok at the age of 16. This is just the past two years. The app's rapid popularity has resulted in lucrative brand deals and opportunities for him to act on the screen. Turner is living the American dream on all counts.

He joked that "Every kid wants fame." He joked, "Who wants to work a nine-to-5 job?"

Turner is one of many teen influencers who are eschewing traditional careers in favor of celebrity. A recent survey found that 54% of Generation Z would like to be an influencer and 86% were interested in creating social media content for cash.

However, lawmakers in the United States are concerned that social media apps may be creating a mental crisis for America's youth. In his State of the Union address, President Biden mentioned Big Tech's "national experiments" on children. A bipartisan group of state attorney general began an investigation into TikTok and its impact on children and teens in March as part of a consumer safety initiative. This is the latest step in a series of initiatives to protect children online.

"As kids and teens already struggle with anxiety, social pressure and depression, we cannot allow Facebook to further harm their mental health and physical well-being," stated Maura Healey (Massachusetts Attorney General), one of the AGs involved in the investigation.

In September 2021, leaked documents from Facebook revealed data about the harmful effects of the Instagram app on young people. Teen girls were the most affected. (Facebook's parent company Meta has been renamed Meta and stated that Instagram "helps many teenagers who are struggling to deal with some of their most difficult issues." The whistleblower's revelations led to the introduction of the Kids Online Safety Act , which would require companies to provide features that protect children from the worst aspects of social media.

Layla Ann VanHooser is an expert on the dark side of social media. The app Musical.ly, which predated TikTok, was used by the 13-year old to gain approximately 100,000 followers. The app was fun at first. VanHooser lost her fan base after Musical.ly was bought by TikTok. She struggled to find new audiences that would be interested in her content.

Most of her fans left positive feedback. She recalled, "I would hear, Oh my gosh! This girl's so funny!" Many of her new friends had harsh words for her, calling her "cringey" and insulting her appearance. She was just 11 years old at the time and the comments were very hurtful. She said that her parents had told her not to view the comments. Musical.ly, unlike TikTok did not limit content for users younger than 13.

VanHooser uses humor to get around bullies. This has been a popular tactic that resonates with her fans. "Once, I got "no eyebrows," said VanHooser. She made a TikTok using Sharpie-drawn eyebrows that were taped to her fance. She laughed and said, "It was like my eyebrows were here." It was hilarious. Plus, I have eyebrows! Those comments made no sense."

VanHooser, now 13, is the minimum age to post videos on TikTok. She uses her comedy and dance skills to spread her anti-bullying message. She exclaimed, "TikTok can be for everyone." "That's my message to other girls."

VanHooser isn't afraid to say no, even with all the snide comments.

"I want to be famous." "I would be so thrilled if I got to the blue mark," she stated, referring specifically to the small symbol of verification that the app gives its most prominent users.

It could be difficult to reduce social media use among teens. Nearly 37.3 millions American teens use TikTok. Each month, the average TikTok user spends more 24 hour viewing content on the app.

VanHooser stated, "I can't sit through a movie for my life." She said that she can spend up to four hours on the app within a single session. "I just scroll and sit there." She said that even with bullies, the app is unbeatable.

A setback, but a new beginning

Jiggy's account was closed almost immediately after two years of growing his following. Jiggy was targeted by a self-described hacker who used a bot attack to flag Jiggy's account for violating the rules until TikTok closed the account. The hacker created a new account.

Jiggy stated that Jiggy "basically stole my photos and videos." Jiggy said, "And then he began taking money to promote."

Jiggy received a flood of angry emails from potential clients soon after he was notified that Jiggy had not seen the promo. He claimed that the hacker had stolen their money. "I feel like it has really damaged my reputation."

Jiggy remains optimistic. He contacted TikTok about the incident and is currently trying to get his account back. He's now creating a new account. It has only 50,000 followers so far, but it is growing quickly. Jiggy believes it has been an important lesson.

"In many ways, starting over was liberating. I can post what I want. "I don't need to keep my fans happy.

He is now a popular figure among his new followers, Jiggy, who is older and wiser than when TikTok was founded two years ago.

He said, "It's been difficult, but it's an chance too." He is still optimistic that he can make it.


 

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