Imagine this. You are endlessly scrolling through TikTok. You decide to click on the comment section of a video that you find entertaining, but the comment section is bizarre. Every single profile picture is a close-up picture of a woman’s face with a blue filter. You think to yourself, that’s odd.
When I first started using TikTok, I noticed this strange phenomenon of profiles with the same blue close-up picture.
Who is this person? And most importantly, why does she have so much influence on TikTok?
TikTok Cults Explained
TikTok, the Apple Store’s most downloaded app, has Generation Z and millennials occupied for hours and has made quarantine somewhat bearable. From the never-ending scrolling to easy-to-learn dances, the Chinese-originated app has become such a powerhouse that it’s normal to see TikTok videos on Instagram and Twitter with thousands of views.
But, with an emerging platform of young people comes challenges. According to a New York Times article, “TikTok users have been forming cults (of personality) and armies (the nonviolent kind) for months now.”
These subgroups are usually not sinister and don’t cause any real harm, but often pledge allegiance to a specific creator — a fandom if you will. Alternatively, some groups are fundamental in disrupting life in the real world through their use of mobilization and understanding of TikTok’s algorithm.
In June 2020, TikTok users against President Donald Trump embarked on a mission to humiliate. They encouraged viewers to reserve a ticket for Trump’s Tulsa rally with their phone number or Google voice number and then simply not attend the event.
The President was so happy with the outpouring of support that he announced almost 1 million people reserved tickets. To his dismay, approximately only 6,200 people attended the rally. A win for Alternative TikTok and the Korean pop fans that successfully pulled off the massive stunt.
In general, TikTok cults are a way for people to connect and mobilize toward a common goal. From leaving fairy emojis under a creator’s comment section to praising their leader in videos, these cults are a way for young people on the app to belong.
I eventually learned that the blue-tinted selfie of the woman I kept seeing in the comments represented the Step Chickens cult.
What exactly are Step Chickens?
In May 2020, Step Chickens reigned supreme as the largest cult on the app.
Melissa Ong, also known as Mother Hen, is a content creator and the leader of Step Chickens. The 27-year-old quickly became famous after one of her videos went viral on the app. The video involves a pornographic parody of a stepbrother trying to seduce his stepsister. Ong plays both roles while wearing a chicken suit.
Shortly after, Mother Hen began to ask her Step Chickens to change their profile picture to match hers — and the cult was born.
Step Chickens began to infiltrate the comment sections of the Houston Rockets, the Tampa Bay Rays, the Kansas City Chiefs and publications such as The Washington Post and Adweek, asking them to change their profile picture to Mother Hen and join the cult. They all complied. Step Chickens even convinced the creator of Flex Tape, Phil Swift, to change his profile picture.
Step Chickens reported that Mother Hen and her videos made quarantine tolerable and now want a platform to meet other Step Chickens to grow their following. Members of the cult suggested to Ong that they meet on an app such as Discord, but Mother Hen wants to rebrand the app Blink in the future to capitalize on the group’s popularity.
“I was like, that would be hilarious if my TikTok cult had its own app,” Ms. Ong was quoted as saying in a New York Times article.
Ong recently signed a contract with a management company and hopes to create a comedy show on HBO or Netflix, like Nathan Fielder, host of “Nathan for You.”
But are Step Chickens still the number one cult on the app? A growing allegiance to a new cult is quickly evolving and becoming more powerful by the day.
The Newest TikTok Cult: Manny
Like me, you probably read the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series and learned how Greg Heffley navigated his teen years through the series of 14 easy-to-read novels.
Now, a new Tiktok cult has emerged. The new trend has already reached its goal: to troll Fox News and make them think that Generation Z wants to replace the American flag.
TikTok and Twitter users changed their profile pictures to the “new” American flag, which depicts Manny Hefley, the fictional brother of Greg, in the colors black, yellow and white. The cult members even suggested the national anthem be changed to the 2010 critically acclaimed track “Black and Yellow” by Wiz Khalifa.
“It only makes sense for the national anthem to be changed to an incredible masterpiece that brings back nostalgia to many members of the most competent and loving generation on the planet,” the campaign said.
The Manny stans have even been emailing Fox News and declaring their goals and intentions for this “new” America. To spread the word, a petition amassed over a million signatures since late June.
What started as a joke created a massive following on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. However, critics say that this stunt is directing attention away from the Black Lives Matter movement.
Twitter user seedsux tweeted, “@ all the people signing the #mannyflag petition- could you also sign all the actual petitions for black people who still need justice? the fact that this fictional flag has more signatures than a lot of the petitions I’m seeing right now doesn’t sit right to me.”
@ all the people signing the #mannyflag petition- could you also sign all the actual petitions for black people who still need justice? the fact that this fictional flag has more signatures than a lot of the petitions I’m seeing right now doesn’t sit right to me. pic.twitter.com/IT66cc0EDh
— seed (@seedsux) June 27, 2020
Nevertheless, Manny stans are quickly gaining momentum and many patriotic Americans are upset with the online joke.
As TikTok continues to grow in popularity, subgroups are inevitable. Whether it’s cooking TikTok, Alt TikTok or dance TikTok, users like to keep to their subgroup of the app to connect with people from around the world. As long as TikTok has the attention of Generation Z and millennials, the app, like its scrolling feed, will likely have no end.