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Throwing a Wrench in TikTok's Creator Factory

Hi, welcome to your Weekend! 

“TikTok is really TV these days,” influencer marketing CEO Mae Karwowski told our own Kaya Yurieff in this week’s cover story. “You’re flipping channels as you’re watching TikTok. You’re looking to be entertained.”

And how, besides scrolling ad nauseam, do The Information’s subscribers like to be entertained? According to the latest data from our new Profiles platform, subscribers are huge fans of traveling to Hawaii, playing tennis (almost twice as popular as golf), watching the NBA, reading Neil Stephenson’s “Snow Crash” and rewatching HBO’s urban crime classic “The Wire.”

Those were the first-place finishers in our Profile rankings. Some additional observations about the current tastes of tech:

  • Unlike the rest of America, you prefer professional soccer over NFL football. The top five sports to watch after basketball are soccer, football, tennis, baseball, and F1 racing—no doubt thanks to Netflix’s “Drive to Survive.” 
  • As many subscribers named HBO’s “Silicon Valley” as their favorite TV show as did the “Sopranos.” Seems about right. The rest of the best: “Succession,” “Breaking Bad,” “Game of Thrones,” and (my personal favorite) “Better Caul Saul.” 
  •  Your second favorite book is “Dune,” followed by Eric Reis's “The Lean Startup,” sci-fi classic “Ender’s Game,” and an eight-way tie between “The Alchemist,” “Moneyball,” “Sapiens,” “Shoe Dog,” “Super Pumped,” “The Hard Thing About Hard Things, and “Good to Great.” The Information Book Club, anyone?

If you haven’t done so already, fill out your Profile so your fellow subscribers can ask you out for a tennis date—or lend you their copy of “Snow Crash.” Now onto your Weekend reads:


the big read

The Million-Follower Factory: TikTok Is Making Everyone Famous—But Few Creators Are Cashing In

Ever feel like you can’t keep up with all the TikTok stars? There’s a good reason for that. There are now more than 39,000 (!!) TikTok accounts with over 1 million followers. In the past few years, the platform has anointed a whole new generation of influencers by giving practically anyone a shot at going viral. But given the app’s highly competitive landscape, Kaya asks whether TikTok can offer creators anything more than a fleeting glimpse of fame. 


social studies

Can the Pro-Abortion Rights ‘Camping’ Movement Really Make a Difference?

Since the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade last month, TikTokers in blue states and abroad have taken to the platform to offer women in abortion-banning states a place to stay, a ride to a clinic or just a friendly ear. The language they use for these invitations is highly coded, with innocent-sounding entreaties to “camp,” “learn how to knit,” “come for sleepover and go shopping” or “eat cheesesteak.” Flora checks in with the women to see if anyone is actually “camping” or “knitting” IRL. 


market research

Can Nuggs Make Fake Meat Fashionable?

Why is everyone from Bella Hadid to Alexis Ohanian hyping vegan chicken nuggets? The answer lies with 22-year-old Ben Pasternak, whose plant-based meat brand Simulate is the cool kid in the fake-meat marketplace. Nuggs, Pasternak’s tenders substitute, is assuming the role of the anti-establishment David who manages to beat the better endowed Goliaths at their own game. Daria delves into the company’s It factor.


screentime

How a Sexual Wellness CEO Uses Her Phone for Work and Play

Alexandra Fine first made waves when she crowdfunded a vibrator on Kickstarter. But Fine’s company, Dame Products, has come a long way since, and now sells a cornucopia of sexual wellness products through stores like Sephora and Nordstrom. As for Fine’s phone habits, they simultaneously befit a CEO and a sexologist. In our latest Screentime, she unlocks her smartphone and reveals what’s inside. 



Watching: The correct way to be a politician on TikTok 
“Is anyone here even on Twitter?” reads the caption of one of Ken Russell’s many TikTok posts. The Miami City Commissioner is running for Congress in Florida’s 27th district and, like many politicians these days, he’s using TikTok to campaign. Shockingly, he’s pretty good at it! His most viral video features him duetting a young woman’s “thirst trap” post, cutting in just as the original video, shall we say, grabs your attention. But that is not Russell’s only hit TikTok. Clearly he’s a social media savant…or just has a great intern. 


Reading: A think piece from a fake Tom Cruise
As far as innate talents go, there’s musical ability, athletic prowess and, for some, a freak resemblance to famous movie stars. Such is the case for Miles Fisher, a Harvard graduate who has built a career out of being a Tom Cruise doppelgänger. The twist is that Fisher uses deepfake technology to make himself indistinguishable from the actor. His TikTok account, @DeepTomCruise, now has 3.6 million followers and features cameos from very real celebrities like Paris Hilton and Emma Chamberlain. In The Hollywood Reporter, Fisher traces his extremely 2020s ascent to internet fame. 


Noticing: Winklevii layoffs and “cosmic consciousness”
Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss are full of surprises this year: first, they debuted their perfectly adequate cover band. Now they’re moonlighting as spiritual visionaries. When a Gemini employee leaked company documents, cofounder Cameron responded with some far-out wisdom: “Karma is the blockchain of the universe — an immutable ledger that keeps track of positive and negative behavior,” he wrote in leaked Slack messages seen by TechCrunch. “We are going to the moon. We are going to need cosmic consciousness to get there. Earthly consciousness will not be enough.” He added that if any employee feels the need to act like a “first-time human,” they can see themselves out—assuming the venture firm doesn’t lay them off first, like it just did to 7% of its staff.


Makes You Think

“What I do have are a very particular set of skills...”


Until next Weekend, thanks for reading.

—Jon

Weekend Editor, The Information


Jon Steinberg is the Weekend Editor at The Information. He is a former editor-in-chief of San Francisco magazine and senior editor at New York magazine, where his work won many National Magazine Awards.
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