What Did “Generation Like” Think of “Generation Like”?

August 5, 2014

“For kids today, you are what you like,” says author and media scholar Douglas Rushkoff in Generation Like. But in today’s social media age, does “liking” a band, or a movie or even a certain kind of snack food online make you a fan? Or does it make you a stealth marketer?

In the film — which airs again tonight on FRONTLINE — Rushkoff followed several ordinary American teenagers in a bid to explore the complicated relationship between young consumers and the big-name brands that are constantly working to target them. These teens told FRONTLINE that social media makes them feel empowered. Six months later, do they still feel the same way?

In Generation Like, viewers met New York teen Ceili Lynch — a huge fan of the movie franchise The Hunger Games. Ceili tweeted frequently about the movies and was ranked as one of the top fans on the official Hunger Games website.

Lynch is still one of the Hunger Games‘ top ranked fans, and she said that appearing on FRONTLINE has garnered her even more followers.

“A lot of people who were my age thought the film was interesting and they completely related to my interview,” she told FRONTLINE. “I got tweets from a lot of teenagers saying, ‘This is so cool you’re just like me.'”

For Lynch, this was the biggest lesson from Generation Like: that her online habits are more mainstream than some may think.

“I get the impression that a lot of older people think, based on my interview, that it’s only a few pockets of people who do this thing, tweeting and sharing, who like something so much they’re willing to put so much effort into it,” she said. “But actually there are so many fans and people who will do that kind of thing not just for the Hunger Games but their favorite bands, singers, movies, books, TV shows. Anything out there now people will support online.”

Tyler Oakley knows that lesson as well as anyone. Oakley, who boasts close to 5 million subscribers on his YouTube channel, has become an online sensation by regularly taking to the web to share his obsessions with the world. He too has received positive feedback from the film.

“I see tweets all the time from people all over who have seen me on the program. Whether it’s from being shown in a classroom or it was shown for the first time in Australia a few weeks ago, it’s always reaching new audiences and they’re letting me know,” Oakley said in an email to FRONTLINE. “The most common response I get is from fans being excited to see me on TV and the general freak-out that ensued after.”

Daniela Diaz, an aspiring singer who was also featured in the film, has had a very different experience. Days after Generation Like premiered, Diaz began receiving hateful comments on her YouTube channel and eventually decided to delete her account.

“I think the hate mail was mostly from older people, adults and stuff, and it was about my singing,” she said. “I don’t think people understood that since I come from a low-income family, how doing the YouTube videos was sort of my escape rather than just having just YouTube fame. It was really a way of expressing myself.”

Lynch also saw blowback from adults — such as her grandparents — who worry that major companies are exploiting today’s teenagers. Lynch now sees some truth to that concern.

“The film helped me understand a lot more about the purpose behind the Hunger Games website,” she said. “I had known we were marketing for the Hunger Games, but I guess I didn’t realize the extent of it. People are telling me I’m doing hundreds of thousands of dollars of worth [of] marketing, which is crazy. I never really realized how much of an impact sharing a tweet made.”

Generation Like airs tonight on most PBS stations (check local listings) or you can watch the film online:

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