Long form deep dives into niche internet communities and online figures

She spent her inheritance sending money to TikTok Livestreamers. What started as a game turned into addiction.

Before losing most of her inheritance on TikTok, Cindi White wasn't very interested in social media.

White, a 65-year-old former insurance investigator who lives alone in Burlington County, New Jersey, spent the year she retired traveling — dining in Dubai, sipping cocktails by the sea in Montego Bay, Jamaica, or strolling among monks in Kathmandu, Nepal.

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But in 2020, the pandemic hal

The fight over what’s real (and what’s not) on dissociative identity disorder TikTok

As a result of this reduced stigma around mental health — at least in certain online communities — the way that conditions like dissociative identity disorder appear online has started to look very different to what clinicians are used to. On DID TikTok, some creators present their alters as having unique and distinct genders and styles, like the Winter System, whose alter Mason uses an ice-blonde wig, electric blue-colored contacts, and drawn-on face tattoos to make himself feel more at home in

The Doll Mommies Are Fighting

Getting hit with severe COVID-19 should have been the most stressful thing to happen to Kiersten Haley last January. In a feverish fog, the 28-year-old military vet could think of little else besides fighting off the virus—even as she was at the center of a separate raging war. The latter was happening on TikTok, with hundreds of strangers swarming her account, denouncing her as selfish, telling her she deserved the hate flooding her comments (“You should be ashamed!!! ASHAMED!!!!”). As she phys

When Did Everyone’s Skin Get So Damn Smooth?

If an alien beamed down to earth and had relied solely on social media influencers to build its understanding of human biology, it would be forgiven for thinking we were close relatives of dolphins, and covered in nothing but smooth, poreless skin. In fact, it’d be forgiven for thinking we were made from something closer in texture to plastic, rather than flesh. Because, despite the fact we now take more pictures of ourselves than ever before, the way we represent our skin online is wildly inacc

They Hired a P.I. to Find Missing Loved Ones. He Turned Them Into YouTube Content

Ashley Easterling’s son had been missing for 40 days when she says she got a call from a stranger offering to help find him.

She dropped off her 30-year-old son, Robert “Alex” Easterling, at an acquaintance’s house in Pickens, Mississippi, on April 20, 2022, and he had not been seen or heard from since. The family had conducted three large-scale ground searches, used drones and dog teams, and done everything to try to locate Alex — but they felt their local sheriff’s department hadn’t made any

After These People Tried Erotic Hypnosis, They Couldn’t Recognize Themselves

When 31-year-old Ava was first introduced to the Bambi Sleep files in summer 2019 — under the guidance of someone we’re calling James, a self-described hypnotist whom she’d met through the website Seeking Arrangements — she thought it was going to be fun. (BuzzFeed News is using pseudonyms to refer to the people in this story to protect their identities, due to their fears about potential retaliation and the nature of the traumatic events discussed in this article. Our sources had not brought fo

How Chess.com Became ‘the Wild West of the Streaming World’

When Michael Brancato began working with Chess.com in late 2017, it wasn’t particularly popular. A product manager at Twitch, Brancato was tapped to spearhead a two-year partnership between the chess site and the video streaming giant, hoping to grow the 1,500-year-old game’s reputation as a legitimate e-sport. He had his work cut out for him.

Chess.com, which was launched a decade earlier by former Brigham Young University dorm mates Erik Allebest and Jay Severson, relaunched in 2016 with a re

The Underground World Of Virtual Reality Sex Parties

VRChat — the world’s most popular social virtual reality platform — bans sexually explicit content in its public spaces. But behind the scenes, attendees at one of its most prominent underground sex clubs were starting to gather for an invitation-only event. It was raining, so the club’s expansive roof terrace was slick and wet. In a corner of the rooftop, a muscled white man with fox ears and a prominent erection made small talk with a busty, purple-haired fox woman half his size. Her only clot

‘Sometimes You’ve Got to Fight Fire With Fire’: A Vigilante Coder Goes to War Against Misinformation

For the people closest to Christopher Bouzy, like his wife Jennifer, the battles he wages against trolls online can be both captivating and devastating to watch. “It’s fun when he mops the floor with them,” she said. “I’m really proud! I’m like, ‘Yeah! Get them.’ But it’s stressful. Especially when they put out your address and all this other information. Anybody else probably would have had a breakdown by now. But he’s strong. He can take it.”

Bouzy is the founder and director behind the f

Her dad's killing made headlines. Now she's creating content about it.

Eva Benefield is just 21 years old and already the joint owner of a clothing brand called Ghost Cowboy.

The business venture began in March, when Benefield, a South Carolina native, came up with an idea for a T-shirt. At the time, she was working in sales at ecommerce brand United Monograms, which sells graphic clothing, and growing her TikTok account, @evathefreakindiva, on the side.

Benefield proposed creating a T-shirt from a famous selfie — the one that comedian Pete Davidson took from his

The spectacular implosion of Instagram’s No White Saviors

When Dionna Owens’ husband, D’Juan Owens, was approached by the Instagram account No White Saviors in 2019, she was thrilled for him.

At the time, the No White Saviors Instagram page, which was set up to encourage better practices in mission and development work, had more than 200,000 followers. The account often called out problematic actors it deemed to be “white saviors” (a critical term for white people who depict themselves as liberators or uplifters of non-white people from developing Afr

Riding the rails with YouTube's hobo vloggers

Dancer vividly remembers the first time he hopped a freight train.

It was a warm October day in 2020, and he’d stationed himself north of Longmont, Colorado, near the railway yard, where the train often rolls through town. He’d been standing next to a tree for hours, debating whether he was really going to go through with this dangerous act — and trying to ease the butterflies in his stomach.

He’d learned about train-hopping in 2017, after discovering the videos of James “Jim” Stobie, a prolif

How TikTok heartthrob William White's thirsty fandom turned toxic

When he shot to fame last summer, TikTok influencer William White, now 22, was treated with bemusement by the media. After all, this was a handsome young guy who’d cultivated a huge fandom of mostly Gen X women by winking, smiling, dancing, and occasionally lip-syncing to a soundtrack of ’70s and ’80s tunes.

“Cougar bait: TikTok male model with thirst traps to ’80s songs a hit for middle-aged moms” read one headline. White, who is from Canada, was interviewed by the New York Times (“I feel like

Inside TikTok's booming dissociative identity disorder community

When speaking with someone as upbeat and energetic as Asher, a member of the Texas-based TikTok collective The A System, it’s difficult, at first, to understand how such a positive person has attracted so much controversy.

But like many high-profile influencers on the platform, Asher and his cohort have been the target of vitriol. “Being called fake once or twice can be rough, but being called fake thousands of times can eat at you,” says Asher, who is dark-haired and bespectacled. “People have

Sex dolls are the new influencers

Like many strange corners of the internet, Instagram’s sex doll community started out as a joke.

In 2016, after reading a tabloid article about a woman who used plastic surgery to look like a sex doll, T, a sex toy reviewer from the U.S., started an Instagram account for his synthetic partner Celestina. T wanted to see if Celestina, a brunette doll who often sports a pixie cut and glasses, could amass more followers on Instagram than the sex doll wannabe. Within a few months, Celestina had succ

Mom for a minute: the internet’s substitute mothers are here to help

Rebecca was having a terrible day. She’d had an altercation with a stranger while out running and like many women put in that position, she was terrified. In a bid to find some comfort, she sent a message to her mother about her experience: “I’m so grateful that you’re safe,” her mother responded. At that point, Rebecca’s second mother chimed in: “You’re scared and it’s understandable, take your time.” Her third mother told her that she loved her, after suggesting that Rebecca should take a self