Watch this Video of Mwinga lip syncing Foxy Cleopatra
As Mwinga explained, with fame comes recognition, and with recognition comes scrutiny. Microcelebrities receive a lot of attention, in both positive and negative ways. Sometimes for Mwinga, being online can be more stressful than being online. “Online, people nitpick everything that I say. I find it really nice in real life because with my friends, I can say something and they’ll just take it as it is,” he said. “There’s no dissection of it. I feel like that’s the biggest difference between the two.”
Beyond the aggravating comments that he receives, the overall effect of the scrutiny that he is subjected to by his following can be quite unnerving. “I don’t like to think of myself as ‘internet famous’ because that sounds so gross,” he said, “but it’s a strange experience for sure. Over winter break, I was going to dinner and a movie with some friends and we were walking through times square late at night and I got a bunch of messages saying stuff like “omg we went to the movies tonight and saw you there! We saw all your friends walking by but were too shy to say hi,” and I was like what? Like, that stuff like that is so weird to think about—enough people follow me that there’s gonna be people who see me out sometimes.” Not only are Mwinga’s friends around the world seeing his posts distributed around the Internet, but local people are too—and then recognizing him offline.
Mwinga elaborated: “It makes me a little bit uncomfortable. I had to make a personal, which is a separate blog that only my really really close friends follow where I can say whatever and have them respond to it,” he said. Eventually, it all became a bit too much for him. “I had to make one of those because I felt like I didn’t have a space on my original blog for that stuff,” he explained. “Some of the asks I get, they want me to talk about things that they don’t have any business knowing.”
As we have seen, Mwinga has a very broad audience—this is proven by the fact that he receives over 50,000 notes on his various posts per day. These are individuals who relate to him and his content, and then engage with it. Who exactly is Mwinga’s audience? According to Mwinga, most of his followers are black people, 20-27 year-olds, and “like literally so many teenage white girls, plus a bunch of randoms and anonymous perverts,” he answered.
As his popularity has risen, Mwinga has developed a more acute sense of how to relate to his audience through the kinds of content that he posts. “My audience responds best to comedy,” he said, “but there’s something else weird that I’ve noticed whenever I post something personal.” On Tumblr, you can abbreviate long text posts to hide the body of the post under a ‘read more’ link. “I’ve noticed that whenever I do that, my blog will spike,” he continued. “If 70 people are on my page, suddenly like 400 people will be there. It’s so weird, because it’s like they’re so interested in my business, which is weird as hell. Sometimes it feels weird because I can’t post my own face without it drawing people’s attention.” As Mwinga learns more about his audience, he adapts his impression management techniques to match his sense of humor to the kinds of content that they respond best to.
On a site like Tumblr where there are few if any restrictions, there is generally a darker underbelly culture. Popular users are often bombarded by these ‘trolls.’ Mwinga has personally received his fair share of weird messages. “I got a message from a 50 year-old man two weeks ago asking me if we could meet up and talk because he thinks I’m really interesting,” he said. “I was like, um…I’m seventeen! First of all, like what?!” he said, practically speechless.
“There are so many disgusting people on Tumblr, like, sooo many perverts. I don’t even have time to talk about them because I will go on for years,” Mwinga explained, the distress caused by these individual users obvious in his voice. As someone who has spent time on Tumblr and has seen some of the darker, more gruesome sides of the platform, I wanted to know more about Mwinga’s experience with the bottom feeders of Tumblr. “But seriously there are so many nasty people.”
(One of Mwinga's followers found this picture on the Internet and posted to his blog because it bears a resemblance to him. His hyperbolic response "I hate you so much" reflects both his disdain towards the image/the inaccuracy of the image, as well as how funny he thinks it is)
(One of his other followers, seeing the image, thought it was real and asked him about it to which he responded sarcastically. This shows how meaning can be misconstrued in a collapsed context)
The amount of content that microcelebrities are flooded with on a daily basis is absolutely staggering. On Tumblr, not only can users post textual, audio, video, links, quotes, chat dialogues, and photos, but they can also comment on each others’ posts, private message each other, and ‘submit’ information. “I get every kind of response, every kind of post, at least a couple times a day,” he said. Within these kinds of responses from his audience, the ‘perverts’ and ‘haters’ that he described come out to play. “There are gonna be people who are like gonna want to say something about everything I post—whether they didn’t get the joke or like if I can explain it or if they thought it was funny or it’ll be hate. There’s a mixture of everything from my followers,” he said.
There is a tangible digital social terrain that microcelebrities must traverse on a daily basis. On a broad platform like Tumblr, there are multiple social groups all interacting at once. In their article ‘I Tweet Honestly, I Tweet Passionately,’ Alice Marwick and danah boyd describe the phenomenon of context collapse: where multiple social contexts collide at once online creating psychological dissonance. Mwinga generally ignores other social groups, staying true to himself and his online friends. Mwinga is followed by so many different kinds of people with so many different kinds of blogs. Not only is he engaging with his close group of online friends, but also offline acquaintances who follow him, friends from other countries, and the thousands of random users from all walks of life. There is virtually no way for Mwinga to manage impressions of himself in a way that is appropriate for all of the different groups that follow him.
In her book It’s Complicated, boyd writes: “Many teens post information on social media that they think is funny or intended to give a particular impression to a narrow audi- ence without considering how this same content might be read out of context. Much of what seems like inaccurate identity information is simply a misinterpretation of a particular act of self-presentation.” In a collapsing context, Mwinga’s identity presentation is muddled as his content is altered, disseminated, and diluted. Many times, he has little control of how what he posts is changed as goes from one user to the next, and one media site to another.
His friends are what make dealing with the chaos of context collapse worth it for Mwinga.“My friends are my biggest inspiration,” he gushed. The ‘social’ aspect of the medium is the biggest factor for him in maintaining his blog. “I’m very social on that website. I’ve made some of my best friends there,” he said. “I meet up with them and everything, so it’s more of a source of community for me. Not with everybody, as I’ve said there are obviously those that I don’t like, butat the end of the day the majority of my best friends are on Tumblr.”
Interestingly enough, Mwinga doesn’t interact with his offline friends online, ever. “I wouldn’t say that my offline and online lives are totally independent, people from my high school still follow me, and a lot of my friends follow me or are aware of it and the content I post,” he continued, “but I’m not really engaging with those people on Tumblr.”
“Those people” often try to interact with Mwinga and his social circle on Tumblr. “I love getting a rise out of my friends. We’ve established such a baseline with each other. People don’t like us online. There are blogs out there that are so against us and our sense of humor, that will message us every day telling us to “go die” and stuff like that, death threats and shit. It’s stupid. They think of us as a cult, sortof. It’s so dumb,” he said. But, Mwinga and his friends, who for the most part also qualify as microcelebrities, band together and stay true to themselves to combat the negativity that is often thrown their way.
‘Hate,’ as it is often called, is an unavoidable evil for microcelebrities: with fans come haters. Mwinga tries as best he can to deal with dissenters. “Mostly I’m really positive on my blog. I don’t cause problems for the sake of causing problems. If I have something to say, though, I’ll say it. I’m not gonna censor myself on my own blog. Which is fine and generally really positive, but there are always one or two people, sometimes a lot of people, who will read my stuff and send me messages like “omg you’re so stupid, go die,” and stuff like that,” he explained.
Boyd continues on, writing, “As teens have embraced a plethora of social environments and helped co-create the norms that underpin them, a wide range of practices has emerged. Teens have grown sophisticated with how they manage con- texts and present themselves in order to be read by their intended audience. They don’t always succeed, but their efforts are phenomenal.” As Mwinga navigates through murky social waters, he thrives by using his humor to manage uncertain or antagonistic situations.
Proving the effect of these hateful users on the individual and on the type of content that a user will feel comfortable posting, Mwinga extrapolated on some of the negative feedback he receives: “Some people just don’t mesh with me online, because everyone has a different opinion about everything. If they want to say something to me, and they expect me to not respond or for it to not have weight with me. I’m not gonna shy away from it if it deserves my attention. If they wanna talk about it privately with me, that’s one thing and that’s fine, but if they want to cause a ruckus on a public post, I will put it on my blog and say it right to them.”
Citing a specific example in which he critiqued John Green’s A Fault in Our Stars, Mwinga continued: “Online I spew my thoughts, they come out in random bursts. I don’t really have a filter online. So I made this post that was like why would you spend money to be pretentious, buying cigarettes just to not smoke them is stupid. And the post got a lot of popularity, people started reblogging it like crazy. All of the fan blogs for the author and the book started coming on my page telling me to kill myself and stuff like that, like I’m a twat, and I don’t understand the book, blah blah. I just responded to them, why would I want to read a John Green book? I love myself (laughter). So then I started throwing that kind of shade, cause why would I entertain them by getting offended like ‘why are you saying stuff like that wahh leave me alone.’” A crucial aspect of authenticity to Mwinga and his circle is honesty, no matter how brutal, and not being afraid to speak your mind and stand up for yourself.
“I don’t care. It’s my opinion. If they don’t like it, they don’t have to say anything about it, or they can post about it on their own space. Why are they coming onto my page trying to change my view cause they all salty. I’m not gonna entertain them. Sometimes I rise to the situation and I respond to those comments when I feel like it needs to be responded to. I’m not gonna be coy about it,” he said. The way that Mwinga responds to the feedback he receives is totally dependent on the way that his following interacts with him. He continued, “At the same time, if someone is sending me positive comments, positive energy, I’ll send it right back to them.”
Not quite jaded by the effects of cyber stardom, Mwinga has never been consumed by the hype. “I don’t try to work for followers, and I definitely don’t try to lose them on purpose,” he said. “I float. If I get followers, awesome. If I lose followers, I lose followers. I’m not gonna cry about it.”
“I use social media because it makes me feel a lot more present. Almost physical, in a sense,” Mwinga said. Ultimately, beyond the scrutiny, negative feedback, and weird offline spillovers, Tumblr is like a digital playground for Mwinga: a space of infinite opportunity for himself and his group of friends. “I feel like I have stamp somewhere. I’m from Geneva, I only moved here four years ago, and I felt really uprooted,” he explained, getting into the root of why Tumblr has become so important to him—and so many other teens around the world. “Social media makes me feel stable cause like I can be on Facebook talking to friends back home and around the world. You know, it makes me feel like I’m everywhere at once. Now, on Tumblr, I have so many friends. The people I talk to are everywhere. One will be like in New Zealand, another in California, another in France. It makes me feel like I have friends in every single place on this Earth, and like I’m there with them, everywhere at once. I skype with them, we do a group oovoo chat. The feeling is indescribable.” It is this global interconnectivity that has been a key factor in Mwinga’s explosive popularity.
Nothing lasts forever. While Tumblr may represent a current phase of his life, Mwinga knows that someday he will outgrow Tumblr’s capacity for connecting him to his friends around the world. “I know there’s gonna come a time when I have to give it up. Whether it’s cause I’m getting too old or my friends move on and there’s nothing left for me there, I’ll leave eventually,” he said. But I won’t delete it. Cause it’s like an archive of my life, what I used to do and think. I’ll miss it, but I’ll always remember it, and the jokes that my friends and I made will always bring a smile to my face.”