Students
Tommaso Bacchini Photo by Anouk Brekhof

Student TikTokers

15 seconds to fame

Tommaso Bacchini Photo by Anouk Brekhof
Groningen is home to a surprising number of TikTok-famous students, who get millions of views with their short videos. ‘If you can stomach the stupidity, have some silly ideas and don’t care who sees, you might as well give it a go.’
23 November om 16:30 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 24 November 2021
om 11:11 uur.
November 23 at 16:30 PM.
Last modified on November 24, 2021
at 11:11 AM.

Door Jonah Franke-Bowell

23 November om 16:30 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 24 November 2021
om 11:11 uur.

By Jonah Franke-Bowell

November 23 at 16:30 PM.
Last modified on November 24, 2021
at 11:11 AM.

Jonah Franke-Bowell

Tommaso Bacchini was home one night when he got a call from an unknown number. ‘Ciao’, he answered, not knowing what to expect. ‘I thought it would be a scammer calling, asking if my computer was broken – I don’t normally pick up’, he says.

However, this turned out to be quite the interesting call. ‘It was a producer from Love Island Italia asking if I wanted to be a part of the show.’ This producer had found the Italian student at the University College on popular video platform TikTok, where he, as @bacquini, has amassed some three hundred thousand followers and upwards of twenty millions views. ‘He saw my stuff and I seemed like a good candidate.’

Famous

The idea of being on TV, becoming famous, so quickly, without little formal experience, is something Tommaso really had to think twice about, but in the end he declined the offer. He knows he could have become a household name, but ‘being on TV for several weeks is really another league – it was going to interfere too much with my studies’, he says ruefully.

In 2021, TikTok surpassed Facebook in popularity among young people in the Netherlands, according to the National Social Media Research 2021. And it turns out that the UG is home to a surprising number of TikTokkers that just might be sitting next to you in lectures. 

There’s student of  international relations and organisation McKinley Braun (@mckinley.braun) for example, who has seven hundred thousand followers and twenty-two million likes to her name. She makes language learning content and shares her transcontinental travels in the process. 

@mckinley.braun

i was legit having a crisis i though i couldn’t german anymore😂 #german #bitteeinbit #deutsch #deutschland #usa #fyp #fürdich

♬ original sound – McKinley

Humerous

Or Arrafi Daffa (@arrafidr), a recently graduated student of international business with ten thousand followers and seven hundred thousand likes who, as a way to get around Covid boredom, made videos to highlight the humorous realities of life as an international student in the Netherlands.

It’s a crazy mix of singing, video making, advertisement, art and connectivity, administered in a highly commercial way

Tom Slootweg, social media researcher

The fusion of technologies and media is key to the platform’s appeal, says associate professor Tom Slootweg, who studies social media platforms. It’s a ‘crazy mix of singing, video making, advertisement, art and connectivity’ and it’s all administered in a highly commercial way, he says. ‘And’, he adds a little cynical, ‘since the Dutch tax authority now has advice for TikTokers about how to file tax returns, the platform looks here to stay’.

Indeed, once you get cracking, you can turn the app into a tidy side business. For Tommaso, who made videos in which he cracks jokes for the camera or cheekily flexes his biceps, the app earned him sometimes more than a thousand euros a month. Especially when you add the promotional items he received. ‘Shein sent me jewellery to wear in the videos’, he says pointing to the studs in his ear.

Millions

McKinley, too, is able to make a decent profit ‘if I play my cards right’. ‘The Tiktok business model for those who create content works on a per view basis’, McKinley says. ‘The Creator Fund pays a cent per hundred views.’ Thay may not seem much, but if you, like McKinley, sometimes get tens of millions of views, these cents become dollars quickly. 

She really started using Tiktok during the pandemic, making uplifting content. ‘I liked to remind people we’re all in this together, things like baking or language learning.’ It paid off, because tens of thousands of followers later, she can now make what she herself finds appealing, not just what will attract the TikTok throngs.

‘Since I was seventeen I haven’t lived in one place longer than six months, and life on the road is something people like to see.’ Travelling and sharing her experiences with her followers is a favourite format of hers. It helps that she hails from Colorado, she laughs. ‘It’s a beautiful place to make content and always draws in the viewers.’

Endless rain

Arrafi, too, was able to profit from attractive backdrops, but in his case that is Groningen. ‘A pretty city for TikTok, but the endless rain does put a damper on things’, he chuckles. Originally from Indonesia, his ‘content’ aims to show followers what life as an international student in the Netherlands is really like.

Groningen is a pretty city for TikTok, but the endless rain does put a damper on things

Arrafi Daffa (@arrafidr)

While most of what Arrafi makes is lighthearted, some of his ‘content’ takes cues from politics. ‘I have made several videos about Indonesia and its history’, he says. ‘Not many young Dutch people know it’s a former Dutch Colony.’

This educational touch is something he says his viewers appreciate. And even though he doesn’t really keep track of the number of likes he gets, the reach of his TikToks make it worthwhile. ‘I often read the comments and I get people saying: “Wow, I never knew that”’, he says. ‘Those I really like.’ 

Eminem

He’s not in it for the money. ‘One language learning app offered me twenty euros to upload a premade clip for them’, he says, ‘but I didn’t want to spoil the style of my feed for the sake of just twenty euros.’

When I make content that is unrelated to me personally and get comments about my body, I think: this isn’t the point!

McKinley Braun (@mckinley.braun)

McKinley really wants to maintain a consistent style and appearance too, but it’s easy to become locked in a battle between ‘being authentic, but also sticking to the genre conventions of the platform’, she says. 

Luckily, for McKinley the two overlap. TikToks of people singing are always popular and are a staple of the platform. ‘I like to sing, I like to rap Eminem, and these are ways to do things I like while still appealing to viewers.’

Misplaced

But sometimes she wonders if the quality of her singing is really the drawcard. Being a young, pretty woman is ‘definitely part of’ attracting the masses. But sometimes the attention is a bit misplaced.  ‘When I make content that is unrelated to me personally and get comments on how I look, on my body, I think: this isn’t the point!’

The self becoming a commodity to be liked and followed is part of a larger and established trend of filming oneself for others to watch, says Slootweg. This began with early amateur video formats, but now apps like TikTok have provided a platform for these videos to reach anybody, anywhere.

He is unsure where TikTok goes next, but is reminded of the famously misattributed Warhol quote: ‘In the future, everyone will be worldfamous for fifteen minutes.’ Slootweg: ‘You don’t even need fifteen minutes – fifteen seconds and a TikTok account will do.’ 

Promotional content

Slootweg has seen TikTok become a place ‘where businesses are dipping their toes into the platform’, offering TikTokers gifts or even cash in exchange for the production of promotional content. 

People think that whatever crap they make will appeal to someone and they can make money

Tommaso Bacchini

Tommaso also witnessed the app changing. He sees a decline in the quality of content, which he believes is due to the low bar of entry to the platform. ‘It’s all just shitposting ’, he says, scrolling to a video of a man, covered in ham, singing folk songs. ‘You don’t need many views or followers compared to Instagram or something to make money. People think that whatever crap they make will appeal to someone and they can make money.’

Paedophilia

However, it won’t be Tommaso who is cashing cheques anymore. He threw in the towel recently, when TikTok erased his account for alleged ‘paedophilia’. The reason: a video he made featuring his younger brother which Tiktok’s child protection algorithm flagged simply for featuring someone under aged.

‘It’s bullshit’, he say. ‘First of all, what I was doing was by no measure dodgy and secondly, there is nowhere to appeal these allegations seriously.’

‘TikTok is just so quick, one second you’re being called by television producers, the next you’re deleting your account’ says Tommaso. Nevertheless, he says, ‘if you can stomach the stupidity, have some silly ideas and don’t care who sees, you might as well give it a go.’

Nederlands