What’s the Deal with Jacob Sartorius’s Social Media Proclamations?
Personal love letters aren’t all that personal when you’re sending them to 1.6 million Twitter followers
Jacob Sartorius, the 17-year-old former Viner, current TikToker and YouTube-launched pop star, wants you to know that he loves you deeply. “why are you so beautiful? like you’re even more beautiful when u try not to be….” he tweeted on September 27. “i love you unconditionally,” he tweeted on September 23. The same minute, he posted another missive:
Every one of the messages was replied to in earnest by hundreds, if not thousands, of Sartorius’s fans. They loved him back; they cared about him; he too was beautiful and appreciated.
Each of those would be a touching moment, were it not for the fact that Sartorius was blasting out the message to his 1.6 million Twitter followers, while receiving back intensely personal messages. It’s a curiosity of the modern social media star that their most relatable moments can become mass messages sent to millions, but Sartorius takes it to the extreme. He’s taking the concept of the parasocial relationship and putting it on steroids.
“The popularity of influencers is differentiated from traditional mass media celebrity in its emphasis on the performance of authenticity, intimacy, availability and connectedness,” explains Zoe Glatt, who is studying YouTube for her PhD at London School of Economics. “Jacob Sartorius practices a particularly extreme version of this, actively cultivating a parasocial relationship where each follower feels like the personal recipient of his attention and affection.”
Sartorius is the most flagrant example of this kind of impersonal personal message, and has primed his audience for supposed intimacy over several years. Back in 2016, he was unironically tweeting out “YOU’RE IMPORTANT” to more than a million people.
He’s the high school sweetheart and the focus of a million crushes — it’s just that thanks to online video and social media, his legion of fans (often even younger than he is) are able to swoon at him directly, rather than at a poster of him on their bedroom wall.
But while the messages appear to give off some semblance of intimacy — why else would you say “if i went in for it would u kiss me?” — Glatt is clear that they’re serving a different purpose. “These messages are not merely expressions of endearment from Sartorius to his fans, but work to solidify his appeal as a heart-throb, and ultimately to increase his popularity and record sales,” she says.
We’ve previously talked about the commodification of personal connections on FFWD: in a world where digital creators on YouTube, TikTok and Twitch are starting to muscle into the mainstream, the thing that separates them from the traditional celebrities they’re looking ever-more like is that semblance of authenticity.
But it is always a semblance. Like many others — including Jake Paul and, curiously, Ashton Kutcher — Sartorius “leaked” his phone number to his fans. Like Paul and Kutcher, the phone number is in reality a premium, paid-for service run by Community that sends marketing messages purportedly from Sartorius itself.
Some fans (left) pour out their hearts to the machine-run version of Sartorius. A few from outside the United States pleaded with him to download WhatsApp so they could communicate with him without incurring massive phone charges. Others cottoned on to the ruse and were left disappointed. “it’s automatic response :(,” wrote one follower. “if it was your real number it would be blue not green”.
But they almost all realize the interplay going on between Sartorius and them. They just happen to like it anyway.
“I think there’s a sort of doublethink that goes on for fans who are in these parasocial relationships with influencers,” explains Glatt. “Whilst they understand that they are one of many, the extremely intimate mode of address that many influencers use makes it feel as though they are being addressed personally.”
And they’ll take what they get and give back in abundance. Today is Jacob Sartorius’s 17th birthday. Scroll through Twitter and you’ll see thousands of well-wishers sending him messages of support, empathizing with him for having a cold on his birthday, and posting collages of Sartorius they’ve carefully compiled.
While it may seem like an unequal relationship to most people, it works for Sartorius. Whether it really works for his fans is another question entirely.