Perez Hilton vs. the Fan Armies
Perez Hilton, the early gossip blogger turned media personality, has been permanently banned from TikTok for violating community guidelines, effective Dec. 12.
Since joining TikTok in August 2019, he had become an influential figure on the app, amassing more than 1.6 million followers and earning an average 10 million views per week.
On TikTok, Mr. Hilton reached a new generation of media consumers who are more likely to get breaking news from social media than from push notifications. The app also helped him stay busy and upbeat in a difficult year.
“I’ve been very depressed this year, and TikTok gave me something to really look forward to every day. It created joy for me and an escape and allowed me to share that with people,” Mr. Hilton said in an interview on Sunday.
But he also found new critics on the platform, many of them fans of the influencers he tended to criticize. “Anyone else think it’s inappropriate for a 15-year-old to dance to this?” Mr. Hilton commented on a video posted by Charli D’Amelio in March, in which she danced in a bikini to a remix of the song “Sugar,” by Brockhampton.
“i’m sorry i’m just trying to have fun! :)” she replied.
The interaction set off an internet feud which resulted in hundreds of thousands of fans of Ms. D’Amelio, the most-followed person on the app, petitioning to have Mr. Hilton removed. Separately, fans of Bryce Hall, another influencer popular on TikTok, took issue with the fact that Mr. Hilton referred to him as “Addison Rae’s boyfriend,” rather than by name.
Mr. Hilton, born Mario Lavandeira, previously had faced backlash for his celebrity commentary. In 2016, he alleged that Angelina Jolie’s lawyers had threatened to sue him for reporting on her divorce from Brad Pitt. He was also criticized for outing gay male celebrities in the aughts. (In 2012, a New York Times reporter noted that Mr. Hilton had “toned down his malicious rhetoric considerably, in keeping with a new culture of nice online that has accompanied the rise of social media.”)
Influencers are a new class of celebrity, though. They wield powerful fan armies who can shape public narratives through advocacy. Influencer fans would mass report all of Mr. Hilton’s videos, he said, which resulted in many being removed.
“Not only do they ban together and mass report your account, they mass report your comments so you’re banned from commenting for several days or a week,” Mr. Hilton said of his TikTok adversaries. “I was getting death threats daily.”
Mr. Hilton believes it was pressure from TikTok’s biggest stars that led to his ban, though the company disputed this.
“We are deeply committed to maintaining a welcoming and supportive community environment. Our Community Guidelines apply to everyone and everything shared on TikTok, and we remove accounts that repeatedly violate our policies,” a TikTok spokesperson wrote in an email statement.
Still, the ban set off alarm bells because influencer fans had been pushing for it — and young creators celebrated it. “I don’t know, Perez, maybe it’s time for you to just go to Facebook or something,” said Tatayanna Mitchell, a TikToker with 4.5 million followers, in a TikTok video she posted on Sunday.
“I think it was a good decision for him to be banned,” said Grace Honeycutt, 17, a TikToker with nearly 20,000 followers. “He used his platform to just throw around drama which was not a good thing to use his platform for.”
“Frankly, this is pretty disturbing to me,” Ben Goggin, a digital culture editor at Insider, tweeted on Saturday. “Perez was and is a controversial media figure, but this feels like a dangerous step towards media censorship in favor of prioritizing the feelings of popular creators.”
Mr. Hilton’s TikTok posts fall into a loose category on the app known as “TeaTok” or “MessyTok,” in that they often consist of gossip, analysis of celebrity drama and opinionated commentary. Similar accounts, including Drama Alert and TikTok Room, have become monetized media businesses with staff or contributors. (Mr. Hilton was also making around $3,000 a month through TikTok’s Creator Fund program.)
“I think the reason I have been permanently banned without any warning is because I’ve been talking about a lot of creators on TikTok,” Mr. Hilton said in a video posted to YouTube and Twitter. “But I haven’t done any harassing or bullying and TikTok is claiming that I am.”
Mr. Hilton posted several tearful videos to YouTube and Twitter, refuting the idea that he had ever violated guidelines and begging Ms. D’Amelio and her family to help reverse the ban.
In emails between Mr. Hilton and Anthony Fernandez, a content partnerships manager at TikTok, obtained by The New York Times, Mr. Hilton also pleaded with the company to reinstate his account, claiming that the content he shared, including that which related to Black Lives Matter and so-called “Karens,” had news value. “I’m sharing those for newsworthy value. And they never get taken down from any other platform,” he wrote.
“There is nothing more I can do at this point,” Mr. Fernandez replied. “Our Community Guidelines apply to everyone, and to everything shared on TikTok. You’ve violated multiple Community Guidelines, some of which even have a zero tolerance rule. Thank you for understanding and respecting our commitment to keep the TikTok community safe.”
In a previous email to Mr. Hilton, Mr. Fernandez claimed Mr. Hilton had violated multiple Community Guidelines, “including posting content that contains slurs and hate speech, sexual behaviors and nudity, and bullying.” Mr. Hilton disputed that and noted that he cross-posted many of his TikTok videos to YouTube, Twitter and Instagram, and that none of those sites had ever removed his videos.
“No matter what happens, I’m still Perez Hilton,” he said over the phone on Sunday. “I’m bigger than any one app or any one thing. People will still seek me out and employ me and have me do things. I’m excited for the future.”
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