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Obsessive Teen Twitter Accounts That Exist Solely to Get a Followback From a Star

One Direction are extremely popular with young people, just FYI
One Direction are extremely popular with young people, just FYI

There's a secret teen cult with its own strange ritual, operating all around you. In the same place where you're reading updates from The New York Times, or tracking some inane rap beef, groups of young people are engaged in a desperate life or death struggle for total social media dominance. Teens on Twitter: They're obsessed with the stars they love. Let's talk about that.

See also: No One Trusts the Tastes of Teenage Girls, But Should: Why Justin Bieber Is the Next Beatles

Being obsessed is part of being young. When I was a tween, I loved Douglas Adams books (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and sequels) and Britpop (Pulp and Blur, especially). I would spend hours doodling in the class editions of my schoolbooks what I thought of as Blur's logo -- lowercase, with the "l" swooping up to become a circle around the name -- or Pulp's all-caps bubble letter logo from Different Class, or the little alien blowing a raspberry that was on the cover of the 1980s Hitchhiker's Guide paperback edition that my mother had, already yellow by the first time I read it in the early '90s. I would write song lyrics in huge block caps -- THE UNIVERSAL'S HERE -- having basically no idea what they meant. I felt like I was doing a favor to anyone who picked that book up in the future; I was broadening their horizons, and putting the best of culture in their otherwise shitty intro to geography textbook. My proudest moment as a kid was when a waiter at fauxtalian restaurant Macaroni Grill saw me drawing all this on the paper tablecloth and guessed I was British.

What if there had been some magical way that I could have connected to Jarvis Cocker or Damon Albarn or Douglas Adams? What if they could have seen my thoughts? Known how much their work meant to me? What if they could have understood -- really understood -- how deeply I got them, and how intimate our connection was? Would I have treated that connection with respect and been judicious about how I used it, or would I have thrown myself into using it every second I could, over and over again? I think I can safely say that I would have made an utter fool of myself. Wouldn't you?

For young people today, this is not a hypothetical. Their idols are on Twitter, broadcasting the details of their lives to anyone who cares to listen. Connecting with it is like making eye contact with your obsession during a concert. Except that eye contact never ends. They follow you forever (at least ideally). You have entered their life the same way they have entered yours. Is it any wonder, then, that there are dozens and dozens of accounts run by fans singularly devoted to getting artists to follow them back?

See also: Beliebers on One Direction: "They're Nothing"

 

The most popular objects of these accounts, as far as I can tell, are: Harry Styles of One Direction, Austin Mahone, and, of course, Justin Bieber. Harry Styles has 17.2 million Twitter followers. Austin Mahone, a 17-year-old singer discovered on YouTube who hasn't even put out an album yet, has 4.5 million (just about half the number of followers of The New York Times). Justin Bieber has 46.2 million. USA Today has 800,000; The Village Voice has close to 85,000. Mahone, Winner of the 2013 Radio Disney Music Award for Breakout Star, is so popular that people brag about being followed by his aunt -- one person had the date and time it happened in their twitter bio. She has 90,000 followers. Many many users use "Follow Me Austin" as their display name.

Many of these accounts post nothing but pleas to be followed, and daily updates on their stats, a grim list of follows and unfollows, like casualty figures from a never-ending war. One Direction's song "Story of My Life," for whatever reason, is a popular focus of countless "follow parties" or "follow ticks," where people tweet at each other and pledge to retweet and follow each other. There doesn't seem to be an endgame to this, other than getting more followers.

It's tempting to ask what the point of it all is, but that risks being mean-spirited, and besides, it's pretty obvious. What is the point of talking on the phone with your friends? What is the point of playing outside? What is the point of anything you do when you're young? It's fun, and it makes you happy. This just happens to be happening in full view of the rest of the world.

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