In an age when clout is currency, it must be bruising for young creators to build up an Instagram account into a 2 million-follower powerhouse, only to see it get yanked off the Internet. Yet that is exactly what happened to the TikTokRoom.
The account, started by two teenagers in 2019, showcased snippets of personal dramas involving TikTok influencers like Chase Hudson, Charli D’Amelio, Josh Richards and Nessa Barrett. Its success would have been the envy of any social media manager. The account hit 1 million followers by July 2020, and nearly 2 million just six months later. NoFilter described it as “the next-generation TMZ.”
“It was like if a bunch of 17-year-olds suddenly had millions of people watching their high school drama,” NoFilter observed. “Actually, it was exactly that, and the TikTokRoom account became a kind of character in the saga itself.”
Now the account is permanently deactivated. Founders Nat and Elasia, who asked to be identified only by their first names for privacy reasons, are trying to re-establish themselves with a new account. A representative for Facebook, which owns Instagram, told us over email that the original TikTokRoom was “correctly removed for multiple violations of our policies” including “bullying and harassment.”
But Nat, who is 18, and Elasia, who is 20, told us they were confused by Instagram’s explanations and didn’t think they broke any rules. They posted only items from the influencers’ own public social media accounts and didn’t encourage bullying, Nat explained.
“For example, we’d repost a TikToker’s public TikTok on our Instagram and Insta would simply take down the post and say it’s ‘violence,’ or ‘bullying,’ or ‘harassment,’ but would never explain specifically why it was/what exactly is wrong with it.”
The Facebook representative did not provide specifics about which posts were flagged. Nat and Elasia also did not provide specifics, beyond mentioning that some of the purportedly offending posts were advertising solicitations that did not even involve influencers. Content the TikTokRoom routinely posted included items like screenshots of Tweets, notices that one influencer “unfollowed” another influencer, portions of TikTok videos, and updates on influencers’ love lives. (Hudson and D’Amelio, for instance, had a very public romance.)
Kelsey Weekman, a writer for In The Know, a digital content company owned by Verizon, tweeted last week that the TikTokRoom founders had suggested that they were banned "for posting about sexual assault allegations."
"They almost always posted 'receipts' before anyone went to the police, but this is the way thousands of ppl learned about the accusations against major stars,"
Problems started this spring for the TikTokRoom, with repeated instances of the account becoming temporarily disabled. Instagram shut it down for good a couple of months ago, according to the founders.
“They didn’t tell us at all why they finally took it down forever, or explain what we were supposedly doing wrong,” Nat said. “We just think the whole situation is unfair and that no matter what we did, nothing worked.”
Nat may very well have a point. Gossip sites abound on the Internet, both of the established media variety (such as TMZ, People, or the New York Post’s Page Six) and recent upstarts. Because public figures do not have the same privacy protections as ordinary individuals, these publications can, and do, provide embarrassing personal details about celebrities, as well as unflattering speculation about their lives.
Much of it goes well beyond what is posted on the celebrities’ own social media accounts. A celebrity complaining about a TMZ article, or related social media post, is not likely to be successful getting it taken down for violations of a “harassment” or “anti-bullying” policy.
Meanwhile, banning a social media account with 2 million followers has obvious financial consequences. At the high end, Instagram account holders with more than 1 million followers might make as much as $250,000 per sponsored post, depending on the brand, according to CNBC. Nat and Elasia declined to specify how much money they made from promotions on the TikTokRoom, but said it was in the thousands of dollars, and that they used the funds to cover their college tuition.
The incident highlights a lack of transparency, and possible inconsistencies, involving content moderation decisions on social media platforms. As private businesses, platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter can establish their own rules and exercise their own judgment about whether content or users violate policies, and suspend or ban any user or account that they wish. Instagram did establish a notification and appeals process in 2019.
Creators have no legal recourse if their accounts are deactivated. Federal law offers social media companies broad protections from liability for anything having to do with content. Coming under increased scrutiny for not curbing harassment enough in the past, the sites have been accused by some politicians and users of now cracking down too much.
The companies have “failed to promote the battle of ideas and free speech,” Republican Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers said during a legislative hearing in March.