How a pro-BLM, rainbow flag waving TikToker became a conspiracy theory super-broadcaster
On TikTok, user @tythecrazyguy has amassed 3.7 million followers on one of the internet’s most popular topics: conspiracy theories. But Ty is no typical conspiracy theorist. He’s a high school student who flaunts rainbow flags during Pride Month, supports Black Lives Matter, and condemns Trump. In videos that often garner millions of views, he introduces subscribers to what he calls the âConspiracTEAâ of the day. Many of his videos may be ironic, but the difficulty of explaining the world’s craziest theories – from Birds Aren’t Real and Flat Earthers to Hollywood cover-ups and Wayfair-based child sex trafficking rings – in a compelling and shareable format it’s also a great way to distribute them.
Ty is a bit of an anomaly, as research has repeatedly shown that baby boomers are seven to eight times more likely to disseminate disinformation than college-aged children, according to Darren Linvill, associate professor at the Media Forensics Hub. from Clemson University which studies social media disinformation. media. But times could change. âThese numbers are based on research on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube; they may be based on an old paradigm and [the fact] this content is often packaged for an older audience, âsays Linvill. âTy here is clearly designed to appeal to a younger, more progressive audienceâ¦ This guy isn’t Alex Jones. He’s looking for a very different audience.
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“We need to talk about it, âTy said at the opening of his videos, holding an AirPod as a microphone. It continues to spring forth from everything from the murder of Princess Diana to Khloe Kardashian’s parentage to the Hollow Earth conspiracy theory and the idea that the government is trying to control us by putting fluoride in our drinking water. Ignoring the fact that most of them are unsubstantiated guesses – and sometimes blending the facts squarely – he shares the most compelling “evidence” for each, often ending with his hand clasped to his mouth in dramatic shock. . It even has a video explaining “the real way to survive a plane crash,” which peddles, without warning, the false theory that safety guidelines for flights in the backup position ask passengers to assume when flying. A crash landing is designed to kill passengers instantly rather than saving them. “Do the airlines want you to die?” ” he ask.
The concern is that these ideas can really take hold in people who had not heard of them before. Dr Kathleen Stansberry, who studies media analytics to understand how data is used to change our understanding of the world, worries that constant exposure on a platform like TikTok will do the job of other platforms. Social media have done before: make you think of your organized information. food represents the whole world. “Once you’ve heard [something] six or seven times you don’t know you’re part of a community where these videos are getting more and more popular, âshe says. “It can make it look like everything TikTok is talking about and maybe even feel like that’s what a lot of people [outside the platform] reflect. But really, TikTok was able to determine that this type of content is going to keep you watching.
Thanks to TikTok’s powerful recommendation engines and its dark plans to moderate content, misinformation and misinformation can spread quickly and widely, even if a video is meant to be a joke. If you watch a video that features a conspiracy-type thought, not only will you receive more conspiracy videos, but users with similar viewing habits to yours will also see content like this, according to Stansberry. Engaging with multiple types of viewers can help a designer reach a larger audience. âEven if you’re a user who wouldn’t go looking for conspiracy-style videos, but like this style of face-to-face, confessional, and easy sharingâ¦ this could be a gateway to a broader and more involved look at other conspiracy theories, âshe said. “It’s snowballing fast on TikTok.”
Likewise, TikTok measures the time spent on a video, so it’s great for creators to keep viewers hooked on every word until the end. Bonus points if you can get a user to leave a comment – whether you say they’re crazy or agree with them, it helps the creator reach more users. Conspiracy theory videos are perfect for this, Stansberry says, perhaps even more so because of the times we live in: a time of uncertainty in the Covid-19 pandemic and widespread distrust of institutions. established. âPlot-style content is very engaging right now, so it keeps people engaged, even if they aren’t looking for it themselves. The hashtags #conspiracy, #conspiracytheory, and #conspiracytheories have 11.3 billion views on TikTok. The content is extremely popular and creators like Ty can benefit from it.
Ty joined TikTok in August 2019. His first post said that his friends didn’t think he could become famous on the platform. “Prove them they’re wrong,” read the text in the video, and urged users to follow. Since then, he has slowly found his way to massive numbers. At first, he mostly posted jokes about being in high school. There are videos on acne, studies for testing, and ordering McNuggets at McDonald’s. A few have gone viral, but most have a few thousand views. He launched his ConspiracTEA series in the fourth month of the pandemic shutdown, in July 2020. The posts immediately received millions of views and he quickly moved on to all of the conspiracy content.
Ty posts sponsored videos on his page and has a website where he sells ConspiracTEA hoodies and travel mugs. Abbie Richards, who researches disinformation on the platform, wrote a twitter thread on Ty after posting a video of last summer’s Wayfair conspiracy theory. In this thread she observed that accounts like Ty’s have little reason to change the direction they’re headed. âThere is a financial incentive to keep digging deeper and deeper, to find more conspiracies, so that he can create more content,â Richards said. âTy is just one example of a TikToker who has been awarded for promoting conspiracy theories and pushing to keep going. His success isn’t exceptional, it’s a symptom of an economy that rewards content. attention-grabbing clickbait. Ty management did not respond to a request for an interview at press time, and TikTok did not respond to whether Ty is making any extra money from the Creators Fund, which creators can access once they reach a certain subscriber threshold.
As TikTok’s recommendation algorithm continues to evolve, Linvill hopes the younger generation will be more demanding than their fake news predecessors. âI want to believe that young Americans are more critical of what they see on social media because they are digital natives,â he says. “But if it’s packaged specifically for them, then it’s more likely to break through.”
There are already signs that Ty is attracting the opinions of not only young progressives who may see hot gossip as comedy, but also true believers. One of his less popular videos was celebrating Biden’s victory in November 2020. “All of you human rights are going to be protected for the next 4 years ahhhh,” he wrote on a clip of him dancing on Becky G in front of an election card green screen. âI love your videos, but I don’t agree with it,â one user commented. Another came up with an idea for a new post: âYou should make a video on how [Biden] cheated and all the evidence only speaks volumes.
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