Last month, Spencewuah, a 19-year-old TikTok star with nearly 10 million followers, said he would be stepping back from the platform after a spat with a fan community.
“A lot of older TikTokers don’t post as much and a lot of younger TikTokers have ducked off,” said creator Devron Harris, 20, from Tampa, Florida. “When creators do try to speak out on being bullied, burned out or not being treated as human, the comments all say, ‘You’re an influencer, get over it.’ “
Courtney Nwokedi said that seeing other creators discuss burnout and mental health has helped her process things. PHOTO: NYTIMES
Burnout has affected generations of social-media creators. In 2017, Instagram influencers began leaving the platform, saying they felt depressed and discouraged.
In 2018, Mr Josh Ostrovsky, an Instagram creator known as The Fat Jew, who had also spoken about burnout, echoed those sentiments. “Eventually, there will be too many influencers, the market will be too saturated,” he said.
That year, many large YouTube creators began to leave the platform, citing mental health issues.
When a fresh crop of young stars began building audiences on TikTok in late 2019 and early last year, many were hopeful that this time would be different.
“When it comes to Gen Z creators, we talk so much about mental health and caring for yourself,” said Ms Courtney Nwokedi, 23, a YouTube star in Los Angeles. “We’ve seen a bunch of creators talk about burnout in the past.”
Still, they were unprepared for the draining work of building, maintaining and monetising an audience during a pandemic.
“It’s exhausting,” said Mr Jose Damas, 22, a TikTok creator in Los Angeles. “It feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day.”
Luis Capecchi found fame on TikTok during his last semester of college in 2020. PHOTO: NYTIMES
Thanks to the app’s algorithmically generated “For You” page, TikTok delivers fame faster than any other platform. It is possible to amass millions of followers within weeks. But as quickly as creators rise, they can fall.
“When your views are down, it affects your financial stability and puts your career at risk,” said Los Angeles-based TikTok creator Luis Capecchi, 23. “It’s like getting demoted at a job with no warning.”
Creators have encountered all kinds of problems, including bullying, harassment and discrimination.
“Some creators get their content stolen too, so someone else will go viral off their content, then they get all the press,” Mr Harris said.
No one has benefited from the creator boom more than the technology industry. After more than a decade of largely snubbing influencers, in the past year, high-profile investors have done an about-face.
Venture capitalists in Silicon Valley are now pouring money into creator-focused start-ups. Platforms themselves have begun to compete for talent.
Mr Innanen said: “The oversaturation and this push for everyone to be a creator seems disingenuous. It seems like a cash grab. It makes me feel very disposable… It’s just next, next, next.”
Creators also operate without the type of traditional employment protections and benefits that come with many salaried jobs.
“The influencer industry is simply the logical endpoint of American individualism, which leaves all of us jostling for identity and attention but never getting enough,” journalist Rebecca Jennings wrote recently in Vox.
To cope with depression, many TikTok creators have sought therapy and life coaching, or tried to be more open with their fans and friends about their struggles.
“When I’m depressed, I talk to the people around me,” said Ms Tatayanna Mitchell, 22, a YouTube and TikTok creator in Los Angeles. “I make posts on my stories and share those quotes that are like, ‘It’s okay to talk to people if you need help.'”
“We care deeply about our creators’ well-being and take their concerns seriously,” a TikTok spokesman wrote in an e-mail statement. “We’re focused on understanding their individual content goals and experiences, and our teams continue to work to provide resources, support and an open door for feedback.”
But even the most helpful platforms cannot alleviate the precarity inherent to such a job or the pressure many creators put on themselves.
Mr Innanen said: “It feels like I personally am failing and may never recover if a video flops.”