In recent years, social media influencers and internet celebrities have created a popular niche in pop culture. Some content creators possess a level of fame among their young fans which rivals that of traditional A-list celebrities. In the past, these A-list stars were only accessible to the public through the big screen or tabloid articles. Today’s internet celebrities are virtually accessible to fans 24/7 through social media. A new group of wildly popular content creators on the platform TikTok have pushed the boundaries of celebrity accessibility a step further towards toxicity by creating what they have coined “The Hype House.” To read more interesting blog articles on an array of internet/gaming topics, check out the GKIS app.
TikTok and the Hype House Explained
TikTok is a social media and video-sharing platform/app that is primarily marketed to kids and teens. Since its launch in 2016, it has become one of the most popular social media sites attracting over 1 billion monthly users.
As you might have learned from Netflix’s recent show, the Hype House is a collective of young TikTok celebrities who live and work together in a large luxury house in Los Angeles, CA. Due to their popularity, the residents of the house get paid to create millions of dollars worth of sponsored content on TikTok. The more popular a content creator is, the more money they earn through ad revenue and branded merchandise.
Typical content created by Hype House residents feature videos of them hanging out, pulling pranks, partying, and (most often) dancing. Each of the Hype House members has a follower count in the hundreds of thousands to millions which illustrates their immense star power. However, there is a flip side. As avid fans discovered the address of the collective, Hype House residents were swarmed with groups of people stationed outside the home hoping to interact with their favorite TikTokers.
Fans traveled from all over and waited outside the house for hours just to catch a glimpse of the Hype House members. As soon as someone was spotted, a frenzy of excited screams would ensue. Perhaps it’s not surprising that some teens would go to such lengths to be in close proximity to their favorite celebrities and score pics for their own social media pages. What is surprising, however, is that many of the fans who would gather outside the collective were elementary school-aged children with parents.
Oddly enough, many of the parents seemed to be just as swept up in the frenzy as their kids. One video features a mother bragging that her daughter handed a box of donuts to someone affiliated with the house and that “now her donuts are inside the hype house.” A second video features a woman telling a mob of children “remember, you guys made them famous, you guys give them paychecks…” in response to the children being asked to leave the front doorstep they were trespassing on.
On one occasion, in a bid to gain followers, a 13-year-old TikToker allegedly broke into the Hype House along with her mother and a few friends while the residents weren’t home. The group filmed themselves going through the house and even wearing and stealing the famous housemates’ clothes. The 13-year-old’s mother even uploaded a video to TikTok saying, “We are currently in the Hype House. We’re gonna have amazing content.”
Despite some extreme (and illegal) instances like this, the residents of the Hype House typically accept the mobs of fans and do their best to have positive interactions with them because the fans’ support ultimately translates to more money in the bank. Unfortunately, access to the Hype House has led to the victimization of some young fans rather than the house members themselves.
Appeal to Emotion and the Illusion of Intimacy
The hordes of fans who habitually gathered in front of the Hype House weren’t actually all that bad for the famous TikTokers who lived there. In fact, this situation went on uninhibited by security enforcement or calls to the police for a long time. This is because it was a reciprocal interaction between the famous TikTokers and their fans. The fans got to interact with their idols, take photographs, and hear a celebrity say “I love you” to them in real life. In return, Hype House members gain increased loyalty, views, and support which ensures the longevity of their success as TikTok stars.
When kids and teens feel acknowledged by a person they look up to, it can have a powerful effect. An interaction where a celebrity appeals to the emotions of a fan creates an illusion of intimacy. This makes the relationship feel real and can lead to personal exploitation.
TikTok has a feature called Duet that allows users to build on another user’s video by recording then placing their own videos next to the original to create a sort of split-screen duet. The troublesome aspect of this feature is that, despite the minimum age of use for TikTok being 12 years old, the music and dance moves in popular videos are often sexually suggestive and explicit. Duet videos are wildly popular on the app.
Tony Lopez is a 21-year-old TikTok celebrity and an original member of the Hype House who is known to post sexually explicit videos. He’s been accused of committing multiple acts of sexual misconduct by several young girls. Lopez, who has over 22 million followers on TikTok alone, is alleged to have used his status as an internet celebrity to coerce underaged female fans into engaging in sexually inappropriate exchanges with him. According to these young fans, Tony Lopez employed various forms of emotional manipulation, preying upon their admiration of him as well as their desire to feel a unique and personal connection with him.
The Graphic Video
In 2020, a video of Tony Lopez surfaced on various social media platforms showing him standing nude in front of a mirror while gyrating the lower half of his body. The video was apparently leaked by Twitter users via direct message. After going viral, TikTok parody videos were posted by clothed minors. In response, Tony posted videos laughing along with the caption, “Oops. Lol.”
Solicitation of Child Pornography
During the same year, several underaged girls came forward stating that Tony Lopez had either requested or received nude photographs from them or sent them nude photographs of himself. Tony Lopez would use his private Snapchat account to add young female fans and interact with them in an exclusive forum.
Lopez would use the promise of access to his private account by telling girls that he would only add them if they sent him “sexy pics.” A series of screenshots featuring conversations between Tony and the victims on his private Snapchat were posted online by some of the girls themselves. The screenshots show crude attempts by Tony to solicit nude photos as well as his reactions when they refused. When a young fan turned down Tony’s request for nude photos, he blocked her from his private account as punishment. After these allegations came out, Tony Lopez officially separated from the Hype House brand.
In January 2021, Tony Lopez was served with a civil lawsuit on behalf of two minors accusing Lopez of sexual battery and emotional distress. Both girls claim that Tony used his fame to groom and coerce them into engaging in sexual acts with him and to solicit nude photographs of them despite being aware that they were underaged. According to the victims, Tony, who was 20 years old at the time, emotionally manipulated the two via text and direct messaging by saying things like, “I’m tryna marry you.” He would ask the girls to sneak out of their homes at night to meet up with him.
One of the girls originally met Lopez when she was invited to the Hype House by founding member Thomas Petrou, who is also named in the lawsuit for negligent hiring of Lopez. After coming forward, Tony’s accusers were cyberstalked, harassed, and threatened with violence by Tony’s avid fans. Tony has publicly denied these allegations stating that the victims’ motivations are to make money.
The fascination with celebrities that sees young fans either trespassing onto private property or becoming victimized themselves can be explained by a psychological phenomenon referred to as parasocial relationships. A parasocial relationship is characterized as a one-sided emotional attachment to a media persona that can lead to strong feelings of familiarity, intimacy, friendship, and romance.
For the most part, fans realize that the relationship does not actually exist. Yet the intensity of their feelings causes them to react as if it does. This is manifested as investments of time, energy, and emotion just as in real-world relationships. Except, with parasocial relationships, none of these things are reciprocated by the celebrity.
How Parents Can Help
While understanding this phenomenon can help to keep you aware of some of social media’s pitfalls, Dr. Bennett has also created and compiled a series of valuable tools and guidelines to help you equip your family with the knowledge and strategies needed to safely navigate today’s technological world.
To avoid the kinds of negative outcomes addressed in this article, check out Dr. B’s tried and true GKIS Social Media Readiness Course. Our course is a valuable tool that teaches tweens and teens about the inherent risks of social media and ways to be prepared when encountering them. Additionally, parent-child communication and parental oversight are key. Dr. B offers essential tips for fostering this kind of communication in her GKIS Connected Family Course. With this online course, you will learn how to create a safer screen home environment through fun parenting techniques designed to guide sensible screen management.
I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe.
Onward to More Awesome Parenting,
Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty
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