It was my first week of posting content and my sister said to me: “Hey, why don’t you do a story time about the time you catfished your catfish?”
I had been on OKCupid, a dating site, two years before and had immediately become suspicious of a man called Mark. He escalated the intimacy within three messages and told me a sob story about his dead wife. A quick Google image search and I found out that the picture he was using belonged to Swedish Olympic high-jumper Patrick Sjoberg.
I considered calling him out, but then realised I could have so much more fun if I strung him along, making him think he could swindle me for money, but always slipping away before the money ended up in his greedy little hands.
Facebook friends to the rescue
I posted our conversations on Facebook and my friends loved it. They gave suggestions for things I should do and say, including:
Talking only in song titles
Telling him I loved penguins and bringing them into every conversation
Sharing that I collected vintage china dolls and asking him to name one
Asking him to donate a kidney
At one point I told him that I was about to give some money to another man I’d met online and he warned me about the dangers of catfish. He insisted I ask this man (David) to provide a photograph of him in red shirt, holding up a piece of paper on which he wrote the day’s date.
My wonderful friend Ollie quickly changed his shirt, wrote a sign and sent over a photo.
It was a daily giggle to go and play with “Mark”, but after about six weeks it all came to an end. Strangely, he was incredibly apologetic and worried that I was angry with him. After giving him a good telling off I eventually blocked him and didn’t think much more of him until my sister’s suggestion.
TikTok and storytelling
TikTok loves a good story. “Storytime,” you say as you start off a multi-part tale – a necessary evil as the longest video you can post to TikTok is just one minute. I used screenshots of our conversations and narrated them, ending up producing a 23-part saga that seemed to catch the interest of a lot of people.
Before all of this, I had four followers – my sister, my children, and my niece. When I woke up the morning after I uploaded the first few parts, I discovered thousands had watched – and I now had more than 2000 odd followers.
The numbers continued to rise every day, and as of the time of writing, I have more than 50,000 followers. One of my catfish videos has been viewed more than 1.3 million times.
I have to say that to myself slowly as I try to understand it: 1.3 million people have seen me, listened to me laugh, as I share how silly I can be.
Feeling the love
And the positivity! Thousands upon thousands of comments saying how funny, brilliant, lovely, clever I was. I was a Queen! The world needed to protect me and keep me safe.
I had absolutely no negative feedback. I’ve been avoiding being in photographs for ten years; I’m 50 and I’m fat. I still can’t believe I shared my double chin with the world – but nobody mentioned it.
People talked about how beautiful my eyes were instead.
My confidence was at a low after I suddenly found myself unemployed in May of this year, but the TikTok community enveloped me in love.
TikTok Mums and the rabbit hole
So, who was watching me? TikTok’s own analytics show me that 88% of my viewers are women. From the comments I’ve read and the profiles I’ve visited, a lot of them are over 40 and are mums.
Before lockdown, TikTok was for the kids.
Like lots of other mothers, I realised my 11-year-old was on it a lot and decided to check it out to make sure it was safe. I fell down the rabbit hole that is TikTok; two hours later I had to force myself to stop watching. Sixty second content is so easy to flip through as you decide what to watch and what you will miss.
It felt friendly. It was safe and warm and funny. That’s a great place to visit when you are feeling low.
We’ve all been worried about money, our jobs, our personal finances. We’ve had our kids at home and we’ve been trying to home school them while we work. We mums (and dads) are stressed, isolated, bored and exhausted.
So, we infiltrated TikTok.
What do we middle-aged people bring to the TikTok party?
We are funny. We are bloody funny. We have got past feeling we have to be beautiful and to conform, and we are willing to share who we are without filters (though sometimes we use them!).
We are also angry and we want to tell the world about it.
Black Lives Matter makes up a lot of content on TikTok, as does body positivity, discussions on toxic masculinity, acceptance of others, and content about trans and LGBTQ+ issues.
We are in there, making TikToks, liking and following those who are speaking our language.
I don’t think we are going away – we have found a home on TikTok.