TikTok teens want to be famous. But at what cost ?

“Chasing Fame” is the first episode of a new CBS Reports documentary series “Are the children okay?” which explores the transformational changes facing young people today, in their own words. Watch it in the video player above or stream it live Sunday, April 24 at 8 p.m. ET or on demand on the CBS News app and Paramount+.

Jiggy Turner is West Virginia’s most famous person. Or at least he thinks he is.

“I mean on social media, I’m the most famous,” he said. “But there’s Steve Harvey. He’s pretty famous too.”

At 16, Turner has amassed over 600,000 followers on social media platform TikTok. And that’s only in the last two years. Her sudden popularity on the app led to lucrative branding deals and on-screen acting opportunities. By any measure, Turner is living the dream.

“All kids want to be famous,” he joked. “Who wants to work 9 to 5?”

Jiggy Turner
Jiggy Turner

CBS News

Turner is part of a growing wave of influential teens shunning traditional career paths in favor of a shot at stardom. In a recent survey, 54% of Gen Z said they would like to become an influencer, and 86% expressed interest in posting content on social media for money.

But lawmakers across the country fear popular social media apps are creating a mental health crisis for America’s youth. In his State of the Union, President Biden referred to Big Tech’s “national experiment” on children. In March, a bipartisan group of state attorneys general launched an investigation on the impact of TikTok on children and adolescents as part of a consumer protection initiative. This is the latest extension of efforts to strengthen the protection of children online.

“While children and adolescents are already struggling with issues of anxiety, social pressure and depression, we cannot allow social media to further harm their physical health and mental well-being,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, one of the AGs leading the investigation. .

In September 2021, leaked Facebook documents revealed data about the adverse effects of the company’s Instagram app on young users, teenage girls supporting the weight. (Facebook’s parent company, which has since been renamed Meta, said Instagram “helps many teens struggling with some of the toughest issues they face.”) A result of the whistleblower revelations was the introduction of the Kids Online Safety Act, a bill that would require companies to create features that protect children from the worst of social media.

Layla Ann VanHooser has first-hand knowledge of the dark side of social media. The 13-year-old gained around 100,000 subscribers on the app, which preceded TikTok. At first, the app was a lot of fun. But once was bought by TikTok, VanHooser’s fanbase changed, and she struggled to find a new audience that would connect with her content.

The majority of his fans left positive comments. “I would hear, oh my God, that girl is so funny,” she recalled. But many of her new followers had less than nice things to say, calling her “cringe” or insulting her appearance. At the time, she was only 11 years old, and the comments stung her. “My parents told me that I was not allowed to watch the comments,” she said. (Unlike TikTok, hasn’t restricted content for users under 13.)

Layla Ann Van Hooser

CBS News

VanHooser used humor to laugh at bullies, a technique that resonated with his fans. “One time I had ‘no eyebrows,'” VanHooser said, so she created a TikTok with Sharpie-drawn eyebrows plastered on her face. “It was like, now my eyebrows are here,” a- she joked, “That was really funny. Besides, I have eyebrows! Those comments made no sense.”

Now that VanHooser is 13, the minimum age to post videos on TikTok, she’s using her acting and dancing to spread her anti-bullying message. “TikTok is for everyone,” she beamed. “That’s the message I have for the other girls.”

Even with the nasty comments, when asked if she’d like to be famous, VanHooser doesn’t miss a beat.

“I want to be famous. I’d be so excited if I got the blue mark,” she said, referring to the little verification symbol the app grants its top users.

Layla watches a TikTok video

CBS News

Reducing social media use among teens could prove to be a Herculean task. About 37.3 million American teenagers use TikTok. The average TikTok user spends over 24 hours watching content on the app each month.

“I can’t go to a movie all my life,” VanHooser said. But she said she could easily spend four hours on the app in one sitting. “I just sit there and scroll.” Even with the occasional bullying, the app, she says, is simply unbeatable.

A Setback — and a New Beginning

After two years of building up his follower base, Jiggy’s account was banned, seemingly overnight. A self-proclaimed “hacker” targeted him with a bot attack, continuously flagging Jiggy’s account for violation until eventually TikTok simply shut down the account. Then the hacker opened a new account.

“He basically stole my photos, my videos,” Jiggy said. “And then he started taking money for promos.”

Jiggy’s inbox was quickly flooded with angry emails from potential customers confused that they hadn’t seen the promised promotion on Jiggy’s account. The hacker, he said, had stolen their money. “I feel like it really hurt my reputation.”

But Jiggy is still optimistic. He informed TikTok of the incident and is trying to recover his account. In the meantime, he opened a new account. So far, it’s only 50,000 subscribers, but it’s growing rapidly. Jiggy says that was an important lesson.

“In many ways, starting over has been a release. Like, I can post whatever I want. I don’t just need to keep my old fans happy.”

His new fans relate to new Jiggy, who is older and wiser than when he started on TikTok two years ago.

“It’s been difficult, but it’s also an opportunity,” he said. He is still convinced that he will get there.

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