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May 31, 2023

Verified Snapchat Stories: The Shift Towards Mindless Content

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At the end of the 2010’s, when YouTube was in its prime, David Dobrik and his groupies were leading the pack. He posted daily four-minute twenty-second-long videos of sketches of himself and his friends, growing to a net worth of about $20 million dollars by 2022.

After a slew of controversies that coincided with the waning popularity of YouTube, Dobrik stopped posting videos in March 2022. His whole group has since migrated to Snapchat to post a massive amount of pictures and videos to their stories every day (in the same section of the app that hosts a seemingly endless stream of clickbait-y gossip headlines that are never true — a conversation for another day). I always wondered what made them do this and whether they were making money from these posts.

Snapchat has something called the Spotlight program which divides $1 million dollars a day between its top creators on the Spotlight section, which is essentially Snapchat’s version of TikTok. People can post short videos to be liked and commented on, as opposed to stories which cannot receive likes. Snapchat used to be primarily a platform to communicate with friends and acquaintances, but it is now yet another place to absorb influencer content. I was not able to find any information indicating that these creators get paid to post on their regular stories like they do for Spotlight posts.

These creators don’t just utilize the Spotlight section, though. In the past 21 hours, Zane Hijazi, one of David Dobrik’s friends who used to be featured in his YouTube videos, has posted 110 snaps to his story, including several pictures of each of his meals, videos of the shows he’s watching, chronicles of the hike he’s on, the cars he’s passed on the highway and much more. I don’t understand what would make a person want to document every second of their day, if not to earn money. 

Every once in a while, I click on a verified creator’s story out of curiosity, and it’s always funny to see how long it takes to click through the entire story and how insignificant most of the things they choose to share are. Another example of this strange phenomenon is JoJo Siwa, who posts dozens of snaps to her public story daily. She updates her followers about what she’s making for breakfast, whether she ate all of it, the new additions to her lavish at-home gym, several updates during her workout about how she’s feeling, what her dog is eating that day, etc — pretty much everything you can possibly imagine that would be included in the day of an extremely wealthy 20-year-old whose job is very unclear. 

It seems strange to post so often into what is essentially a void if you’re not being compensated. Maybe the compensation is maintaining relevance. However boring these mundane life updates may be, something still compels people, myself included, to click on the stories. If no one was watching, these creators would have no reason to keep posting. The verified creators post dozens — sometimes hundreds — of snaps daily, leveraging every moment of their lives. Whether they are alone or with friends, this seems problematic. Nothing is done just for themselves — it is all used to accrue views, and moments with friends become cheap and transactional. 

Creators have taken to posting mindless, effortless, valueless content en masse in this new space, turning away from the videos on YouTube that, whether it was your taste or not, arguably had some sort of value. Many of the same creators that now post this thoughtless content used to plan, film, edit and post videos to YouTube that, in order to gain popularity, had to be funny, interesting or creative. The platform created space for variety in comedy and style. They have since pivoted toward a type of content that serves one purpose: getting you to click on it. There is no like or dislike button, only views. The output doesn’t have to be good, truthful or even entertaining. It just has to be clickable. 

Rachel Cannata is a sophomore in the Hotel School. She can be reached at [email protected].