Police were called to the Toronto Eaton Centre Thursday afternoon to deal with crowd control after an impromptu meet-and-greet featuring four TikTok users, highlighting concerns amid a boom in the app’s popularity.
Toronto police said officers were asked to help the Toronto Eaton Centre security team with crowd management as throngs of people unexpectedly packed part of the mall. Images from the scene showed a tightly packed group crowded around a fountain on the bottom floor of the mall, with onlookers gathered around balconies on higher levels.
“Back in the day, it was celebrities like Elvis and The Beatles that would create this type of frenzy for boomers,” explained Michelle Pichev, a social media expert with Pinch Media.
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“Think in the ’90s, girls grew up worshipping supermodels, people who were untouchable and superhuman. Today it’s all about being relatable, so its no surprise that influencers are drawing this level of frenzy.”
The so-called influencers are featured on TikTok, an up-and-coming video sharing service that features 15-second videos of users expressing themselves through music, dance, comedy and lip-syncing.
“Any brand that is trying to reach ‘Gen Z’ and millennials is realizing that they have to be on TikTok,” added Pichev.
“Things aren’t changing as much as we thought in the sense that we have always been in the business as marketers of capturing attention and following the eyeballs, following the attention using that to help people discover new products and new services.”
TikTok helped to launch careers for Madeleine and Samantha Caleon, the twins who reside in the Greater Toronto Area became an overnight sensation after producing a video on the app. They now have more than 3.3 million followers and also produce content for YouTube and Instagram.
The business-savvy twins, who even through their fame, put school first and completed degrees in business commerce at the University of Toronto.
“We still can’t believe it to this day,” explained Samantha.
“People come up to us when we’re out and we’re like, ‘What, you want to meet me? You want to take a picture with me?'”
The twins, who often finish each other’s sentences, said they do their best to create a good “work-life balance.”
“We want to be a good role model to our followers as well, so we try not to let it change who we were from the beginning and try to keep our feet grounded,” explained Madeleine.
“We do what we love and we’re also doing it together.”
Meanwhile, TikTok has found itself in and out of headlines amid controversy surrounding a national security review, censorship, and privacy concerns.
In early December, TikTok admitted to suppressing the content of users it deemed ‘susceptible to bullying’, namely people with disabilities or those in the LGBTQ2 community.
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It also faced public scrutiny over allegations that the platform removed politically-sensitive content for users in China, including Aziz’s makeup video, for which the company later apologized.
In November, U.S. lawmakers launched a probe into Bytedance’s acquisition of the social media app, formerly called Musical.ly, citing several concerns including worries over how the Chinese company would store the personal data of users.
“It’s all really about how the users handle it and how parents guide their children on the app as well if they’re monitoring their children,” added Samantha.
— With files from Sara Hussein and The Canadian Press