The latest bizarre trend to hit TikTok? TikTok cults. These aren’t your typical influencers with masses of adoring fans behind them, but individuals taking on the title of “cult leader” and openly asking others to worship them in a “cult.”
Just like viral challenges, they’ve become abundant on the app since the beginning of quarantine as more people turn to social media for social interaction and connections.
What Are TikTok Cults?
TikTok cults are groups of TikTok users led by a single person who claims themselves as the cult leader. These people have not mandated specific ideologies onto their following just as a real-life cult leader would, but they are asking their followers to recruit, identify themselves as members, and support the leaders in various ways.
To identify as a cult member, a TikTok user has to change their profile picture to one that the leader decides. For the Step Chickens, for example, it’s a blue-tinted selfie of their self-proclaimed leader, Melissa Ong.
Then the leader either declares a raid or asks their following to organize raids among themselves. These raids are something similar to spam messages you see across the internet, where the followers go to a designated profile on TikTok and spam that user’s comment sections with language (hashtags, phrases) associated with their cult.
Notably, these raids have taken off past TikTok, appearing on other social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, as different cults battle it out.
Who Are the TikTok Cults?
Step Chickens are arguably the most popular cult on TikTok with a large presence led by Ong (@chunkysdead).
Their competition is The Jeffs, also known as simply “Jeff.” Rather than a single cult, it’s a collective of members from other TikTok cults: the Weenies, Babbages, The Flamingos, Duck Sanctuary, the #YeehawSquad, and The Griswolds.
These rivaling cults engage in regular battles where they fight to get the most visibility on a chosen TikTok or YouTube video. Leaders discourage cyberbullying between members of rival cults but comments often feature users dragging members of other cults.
Should Parents Worry?
Diana Graber, author of Raising Humans in a Digital World and Cyberwise co-founder tells Parentology that younger users should understand that openly identifying within these cults may effectively tie their digital identity to the groups. That establishment can then associate any collective action or ideas expressed by the group to the individual user.
“I think all teens/young people should think about who they follow,” says Graber. “They should use digital tools to research the person behind the messages they see and then ask themselves if associating with this person online brings value to their digital reputation, or not.”
While these cults have yet to truly manifest into something that can be deemed problematic, Graber advises parents to communicate with kids about the content they are engaging with online.
“Check in to see if any of these so-called ‘cults’ your kids might be following are asking them to do something harmful or foolish,” Graber says. “Talk to your kids about the wisdom (or lack thereof) of blindly following strangers online, or doing something because ‘everyone’ is doing it and the impact upon their digital reputations.”