What is real and what is fake?
Last June, a video covering dating app profile red flags by TikTok user @sydneyplus began trending online. Sydney, the creator, claimed she worked in a dating app company and her video garnered over 600k likes. Soon after, newspapers like The Sun and The New York Post covered her video. However, there’s just one problem: Sydney isn’t real.
“Sydney,” the blonde 20-something with more than 600k followers, is the creation of FourFront, a tech media company.
FourFront has its actors act out scripted storylines and post them on social media. The company has operated since 2020 and aims to reinvent how people absorb entertainment. Fictional influencers are not that unique to the internet (does anybody remember YouTube’s Lonelygirl15?); however, FourFront is one of the firsts to host fictional influencers on TikTok.
Larger than (Fictional) Life
The studio released 22 characters but only greenlit nine for a full series. Together, its characters boast a combined 1.9 million followers and 281 million views.
FourFront’s stories are usually larger than life. For example, Ollie is a trans man who discovered his long-lost father transitioned, while Tia is a student who discovers her boyfriend is an African prince. Sydney’s story is just as scandalous, where she discovers her sister’s fiancé is a cheater.
FourFront co-founder Ilan Benjamin states:
“It’s important that we made our universe light and playful — no cult content, no dark content, and every one of our characters is openly fictional,”
Each TikTok account has its own unique profile, where each character explains they’re fictional. For example, Tia’s account reads “Formerly known as TikTok’s fave fictional,” and Ollie’s reads “Made with love by actors & creators.”
Welcome to the TCU
While each character operates separate accounts, they all function under a connected universe. Just last week, the characters gathered in Los Angeles to try to win a billion dollars. The characters also hosted a livestream on Zoom where they announced they all knew each other.
“We’re basically creating an MCU-style universe of characters on TikTok… Some succeed, some fail — it’s the TV pilot season model where we only invest in those that get traction and audiences love.”
Aside from sharing a connected universe, the characters are also interactive. FourFront allows fans to text their favorite characters and take part in public polls. Fourfront uses AI software to run its text messages, while its polls determine what a character does next.
So far, the company has raised $1.5 million in seed funding. Eventually, FourFront hopes to make a profit by licensing their characters and selling tickets to live meet-and-greet events.
FourFront’s characters run under an ethical grey area. To some, FourFront’s venture feels cynical. Much of the internet is already filled with real-seeming content; figuring out your favorite TikToker is a fictional character can feel exploitative.
However, according to Benjamin, many followers tend to stay even after they find out their favorite character is fake. For example, after they announced an early character by the name of Paige was fictional, 89 percent of fans kept on following. Meanwhile, FourFront is adamant TikTok users can add the pieces together.
Yet, skeptics are, well, skeptical. How can you tell what is real and what is fake? Since its criticism, FourFront began inserting the hashtag #fictional to alert its audience, but is it enough? According to Insider, FourFront’s founders don’t want to deceive anyone; they want you to know everything’s fake
“We would love to come up with ways to work with TikTok to telegraph that this is fictional… because long-term, we don’t think we’re going to be alone in this space.”