Social media is fake and influencers are not real. We have all heard (and probably shared) this sentiment: The picture-perfect lives projected by the ultra-rich, ultra-followed Instagram and TikTok famous are not from the reality in which the rest of us live.
The unrealistic and seemingly untouchable influencers are thought to be the vapid, toxic and harmful apex of everything wrong with social media and the internet. Yet hidden within these warped online wastelands, birthed from the mythical ideals of online friendship and community, are the almost-influencers: the niche internet micro-celebrities.
A niche internet micro-celebrity is an online persona who has amassed a small, dedicated and tight-knit following. Unlike influencers, niche internet micro-celebrities do not generate significant income or gain massive social influence and recognition from their content creation. They go largely unnoticed, living among us as the normal people they are and posting to a community of a few thousand people.
Niche internet micro-celebrities’ appeal is in their relatability — they work jobs, attend school, go to sports practices, have embarrassing stories that sound like a FaceTime call from your best friend and wear outfits made entirely from the thrift store, local mall or Target. And, amazingly, they display this for the rest of the world. Posting into a chasm of internet chaos, the micro-celebrity subverts the absurd extremes of typical influencers, reaching out to connect with their following through the everyday and mundane.
I am no stranger to these online personalities. In fact, I have come to realize that the everyday content they produce is the type of content I most like to consume. On TikTok, I almost religiously follow other young, college-aged girls who post about their daily routines, college classes, love lives and clothing hauls.
I have been following some of these accounts — such as @thecoolestgirlintheworld777, owned by Sophia Judice, a 20-year-old student attending University of Texas at Austin — for years. I have consumed so much of her niche content that Sophia no longer feels like an obscure online presence, but rather a long-distance friend. You would think Sophia is my friend to some extent. I know her major, her sorority, her favorite books, authors, bands and movies — we even follow each other on Goodreads. I could tell you her boyfriend’s name or her hometown, but Sophia does not know me. To her, I am a stranger. This is the unsurprising and inevitable reality of the everyday almost-influencer. Sophia’s accounts are home to hundreds of videos detailing her life: “get ready with me” videos that “update” loyal followers on her days, rants on annoyances she encounters or passionate recommendations of the recent media she has enjoyed.
Sophia is not alone in making this type of content. I follow dozens of other accounts, @whipplequincy, @db3tch and @amazonalexa.0 to name a few, where the very real account owners post very real content about their lives to an ever-accepting internet void. From their livestreams with accompanying chat feeds, boyfriend updates combined with make-up tutorials, day-in-my-life vlogs and slideshows of selected highlights and lowlights from their Snapchat private stories, I have developed a sense of personal connection with these micro-celebrities. But while these internet relationships can be an entertaining form of media consumption and a comfortingly accessible cure for loneliness, they are not real. They may seem closer to real-life friendships than our relationships with influencers, but they are still ultimately just internet illusions. By following these micro-celebrities, I have cultivated one-way friendships with a bunch of pictures and pixels — a “friendship” that belongs not only to me but to their thousands of other follower-friends.
This seemingly hidden subsect of internet fame and influence is as refreshing as it is dystopian. It’s bizarre to know about the everyday, real-life happenings of people who do not know I exist. But in these glimpses into the regular lives of what are essentially strangers, I find a sense of true connection. My kindred spirit unites me with these niche internet micro-celebrities and the rest of their following. They stand as evidence that people really aren’t so different — that somewhere out there, people not only care about but also share my thoughts, feelings, interests and ideas and are simply waiting for me to find them.
These creators may never have a real, physical presence in my life, but their embrace of candid content in a sea of online fakeness makes them hidden gems in their own right. They promote an acceptance of everyday life, pursuing your passions and celebrating the humanity that connects us all. They emphasize the true hidden gems of life: our own experiences.
Daily Arts Writer Kathryn Hemmila can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org