Everyone knows (or has at least heard of) them. The person who walks around campus and seemingly knows everyone, always stopping to chat on their way to class. They could be considered a full blown “campus celebrity” based on their status among peers.
In the past, this person was often known for their achievements outside of the classroom. They might be the star player on the high performing sports team, or the A Capella star, or even the super involved class president. But recently, through location based social media, it is easier for any student to become known and achieve this level of campus fame. All they need is a smart phone.
One instance of this phenomenon of the new “campus celebrity” was seen on Syracuse University’s campus over the course of the past year when a sophomore student found herself repeatedly featured on the campus wide Snap story via the popular app, Snapchat. The student would make daily videos detailing the weather and always ended by telling fellow student to “remember to smile.” Her helpful and uplifting videos caught the attention of the Snap story curators and soon, her videos were featured on the story daily. Pretty soon everyone on campus, or at least those who had Snapchat, knew her name.
This online fame quickly turned into offline fame as well when other students, upon seeing the Snapchat star around campus, would ask for a selfie or even a signature. Running into this Snapchat star soon became something of a bragging right, much like running into an actual celebrity. In an interview for the campus newspaper the student described one instance where another student, upon recognizing the name sticker on her door, knocked to see if it was actually her and found her sitting in her room in only her towel.
This brings into question the privacy (or lack thereof) that these campus celebrities are allowed when they are on campus. Soon after her stories were featured, the student stated that people recognized her virtually everywhere on campus, from the quad, to class, and even at parties. This type of recognition is one thing for athletes or class presidents, they know (or can at least anticipate) that people will be interested in meeting them around campus. But what about Snapchat made celebrities? By choosing to put themselves out there in the campus community they may think they know what to expect. However, with the viral nature of social media and how fast things can spread, it can sometime be difficult to predict just how big their reputation on campus will become.
Around the same time that the student’s daily weather reports were being featured on the Snap story, Yik Yak, the anonymous, location based app that allows users to share their thoughts, was also becoming increasingly popular on campus. For a period of time, there were Yaks that mentioned the student (by name) and commented on the most recent report.
In the beginning these Yaks were often positive and received many up-votes by fellow users. However, it was surprising to see these yaks were allowed, given that Yik Yak tries its best to maintain anonymity among users and using names defeats this purpose.
Toward the end of the year, the yaks about this new campus celebrity became increasingly negative, calling her stories “annoying” and some even accusing her of paying to stay on the Snap story. While these negative yaks were probably just a handful of people and many others either didn’t care or still enjoyed the Snap story weather reports, it raises the question of what happens when a campus celebrity falls from their peers good graces. In all likelihood, they just continue what they were doing with few if any real life repercussions. In an interview with another on campus publication, the student said that she had seen some of the negative comments regarding her reports but she was trying not to let it get to her and that she was glad for the opportunity to spread positivity around the campus and brighten her fellow students’ days.
This phenomenon of the new, social media driven campus celebrity shows a lot about the power (and fleeting nature) of social media and the micro culture and community that can form on a college campus. Just as in the “real world” outside a college campus, celebrities are made and celebrated until the next thing comes along that catches the community’s attention.