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As the world retreated indoors, we spent even more time online—video chatting, attending virtual concerts and crowning a new wave of young celebrities. Here are eight of the year’s best reads from the world of social media.
Quarantine boredom sparked a boom in at-home baking. In turn, this prompted a shortage in basic supplies like flour and yeast—and the rise of an entirely new type of social media influencer: amateur and small-time professional bakers figuring out how to monetize their overnight fame. “People have got a lot of time on their hands,” said one such new internet star, 36-year-old Kristen Denis of Chicago. “They want to focus on something, to use their brains.”
“We’re in a precarious situation,” lamented Las Vegas performer Mackenzie Claude. “Everything is being put on pause.” In the initial days of the pandemic, dozens of people like Claude took to Twitter to beg for help. The trend was widespread enough to catch the attention of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who days later offered to send money to needy people who messaged him.
In another effort to fill time in lockdown, millions of people joined Facebook groups in which all the members adopted imaginary personas and imagined their lives as different types of animals. One such group devoted itself to frogs, picturing their existence in a lily-pad-filled pond. (It currently has nearly 25,000 members.) Another set went with aardvarks. (Nearly 28,000 there.) And 1.9 million Facebookers chose to join the same ant colony. Among its rules, no “antarchy.”
As protests over George Floyd’s death sparked a nationwide reckoning over race, some teenagers chose to chronicle their experiences with racist peers in anonymous Google Docs. “Some people say, ‘You’re ruining their lives,’” said a young woman running one of the Docs. “I think it’s the only way to prove to them that actions do have consequences.”
Discord cofounders Jason Citron, 35, and Stan Vishnevskiy, 31, opened up for the first time about their company’s most infamous moment—when neo-Nazis used the messaging platform to plan the 2017 Charlottesville protests—and detailed their vision forward for the now widely used app. Discord became popular among those stuck at home, remote teachers and even Black Lives Matter protestors. After raising new funding in June, it scored another $100 million in December, roughly doubling its valuation in a year to $7 billion.
Our inaugural ranking of the highest-paid TikTokers put a spotlight on the newest cast of teen celebrities, who are turning videos of silly memes and choreographed dances into million-dollar paydays. These influencers have won corporate sponsorships from the likes of Sony, Chipotle and Revlon and nurtured lucrative lines of personally branded merchandise.
Travis Scott earned a place on our Under 30 list three years ago for his music credentials, back when he was a rap star with a love of mosh-pit concerts. He’s since become big brands’ go-to business partner, staging a virtual concert within Fortnite, developing a co-branded meal and merchandise with McDonald’s and, more recently, teasing a new PlayStation deal that might include a Scott-branded console and video game.
“When Apple started, it was adopted by architects, creatives and other sorts of cool kids,” says 28-year-old Ben Francis, the founder of Gymshark athleticwear. “Our fans count their macros and know how to do a proper deadlift.” Francis has deftly combined brain and brawn, recruiting an army of fitness influencers to sell $330 million worth of his high-end gym clothes.