In the News
What is a TikTok cult exactly? We explain
Move over, Charli D'Amelio—TikTok has a new boss in town that's quickly *clucking* its way to stardom. Recently, a cult known as the Step Chickens (tied to a social networking app of the same name) has taken over, with 27-year-old influencer Melissa Ong serving as the group's fearless leader.
Tens of thousands of users have changed their profile pictures to a blue-tinted image of Ong in solidarity, raiding the comments of popular creators' videos with powerful calls to "join the cult." The in-app experience has become more than simply "stanning" your favorite stars—thanks to the rise of TikTok cults, it has become centered around intense idolization.
It all began in January when a Lego Star Wars army dominated the app, followed by a purple vs. green alien "gang war" in April. It's important to note, though, that these cults are hyper fandoms that "worship" a single creator, typically a popular user paving the way and sparking others to follow suit. What differentiates them from traditional fans (i.e., Zoe Laverne's "Zonuts" and Cody Orlove's "Cows") is that their mission is to ignite a movement, empowering a wide range of users to share in what they revere.
The most popular TikTok cult to date is the notorious Step Chickens, which have become not just a social media family but a brand as well. The Washington Post, The Houston Rockets, the Tampa Bay Rays, the Kansas City Chiefs and more changed their avatars to Ong's face, leading the influencer to accumulate over 1.9M followers. Ong even wrote and recorded a Step Chickens song (available on Spotify and Apple Music), and she established a merch store that sells tees, phone cases, face masks and yoga pants.
So why are these cults so popular? As we practice social distancing, tying ourselves to one allows us to feel connected to our peers despite a lack of in-person interactions. With normal outdoor activities suspended, belonging to a social media group makes us feel like we're a part of something influential and inspiring.
Feel free to join the Step Chickens if you wish, but remember that the key to TikTok success is actually rooted in individuality. By changing your account to look like everyone else's, the platform will lose the uniqueness and diversity that makes it so exciting to explore. What makes you different is what makes you special—that's a lesson no chicken could teach.
Would you ever join a TikTok cult? Comment below!