Drama

How TikTok heartthrob William White’s thirsty fandom turned toxic

Feuding among White’s middle-aged women fans is getting ugly. Meanwhile, the influencer is raking in the cash.

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 04: William White attends the amfAR Gala Los Angeles 2021 hono...
Ryan Emberley/amfAR/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

When he shot to fame last summer, TikTok influencer William White, now 22, was treated with bemusement by the media. After all, this was a handsome young guy who’d cultivated a huge fandom of mostly Gen X women by winking, smiling, dancing, and occasionally lip-syncing to a soundtrack of ’70s and ’80s tunes.

Cougar bait: TikTok male model with thirst traps to ’80s songs a hit for middle-aged moms” read one headline. White, who is from Canada, was interviewed by the New York Times (“I feel like a 40-year-old in a kid’s body, like I’m definitely an old soul”) and later named People magazine’s Sexiest TikToker Alive. In June 2021, the former landscaper signed with IMG Models and talent agency WME.

Today, White’s @whiteyy18 account has 1.9 million followers. TikTok hashtags dedicated to his fanbase, like #whiteyy18 and #whiteynation, are full of fan-made videos whose sheer volume and level of adoration rival that of most K-Pop stan content. Fans have embraced the “cougar” label and dubbed themselves Whitey Nation and the Love Army, in the style of communities built around superstars like Harry Styles and Taylor Swift.

But over the last six months, the temperament and behavior of White’s audience have changed dramatically. Some members, in fact, think the community is out of control. (A representative for White declined Input’s request for comment from the influencer, saying, “We don’t comment on rumor or gossip.”)

“I’ve seen women say they’d eat his snot when he had a cold, and I’ve even seen women say they’d lose the light in their lives if he left the internet,” says Joann, a 46-year-old former fan from Pennsylvania who trolls White’s followers in a bid to break them of what she feels is a damaging obsession. (Input is withholding the last names of interviewees for the sake of their safety.) “If he doesn’t tweet or go live for a day or two, a lot of them will delete their accounts out of anger or get into fights.”

Joann has problems not only with the community, but with White himself. She feels he’s taking advantage of his fandom. “If you send him a PayPal during his Live and it’s large enough, he’ll thank you for it. There’s some women who send four PayPals each Live just to hear him say their name,” she says. “He’s making easy money, and he’s making tons of it. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Insiders like Joann paint a picture of a fandom that overextends itself financially to fund White’s lifestyle, relies on White for its emotional stability, and even normalizes stalking. Now, the fandom has split into two warring factions: the “positive” side, which believes White can do no wrong and threatens his critics, and the “troll” side, which attacks obsessive fans. Doxxing and cyberbullying are the norm among White’s most rabid followers, and whistleblowers charge that the man at the center of it all isn’t doing anything about it so he can continue to profit.

According to Tracey, a 51-year-old fan and stay-at-home mom from New Jersey who asked Input to use an alias to protect her privacy, White’s influence on his followers was positive at first. “We’re in our fifties, and we feel forgotten,” says Tracey, who is on the troll side. She points to members of White’s fandom who credit the influencer with helping them to feel young again and even allowing them to rediscover their “sexy” sides. “To have this gorgeous kid dancing to songs that were the fabric of our youth? It was amazing. Somebody was actually seeing us.”

As the pandemic raged on, it became apparent that many of White’s fans relied on his TikTok Live appearances for emotional support. “He would replace real interaction in a lot of people’s lives, and bring joy to people who were suffering in a time where they couldn’t go out and get that emotional support,” says Andrea, a 56-year-old fan from Virginia who considers herself neutral in all this.

Fans claim White has lifted them out of depression and even helped them get over feelings of wanting to die. “There’s been a lot of tragedy, and I think he helped a lot of lonely women get through that,” Andrea says, “because he does make you feel seen.”

William White and fans at the amfAR Gala Los Angeles in NovemberRyan Emberley/amfAR/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

But over time, some fans’ reliance on the creator has become unsettling. “Many of them are depressed and lonely. They think William gives them a reason to be happy and their moods are directly related to him,” says 51-year-old Floridian fan and podcast host Kristina, who has extensively researched troubling behavior in White’s fandom for a podcast she co-hosts called GenXtemporaneous.

Kristina shared with Input screenshots of a private Facebook group in which women discussed their belief that White is a God-like figure, sent during the age of Aquarius to awaken women’s sexuality. “For them, the parasocial relationship is so profound and so real that they believe it,” she says. Fans on Twitter report feelings of emptiness and heartbreak when White fails to appear on TikTok Live, a situation that sometimes brings them to tears. “It truly hurts them to be away from him.”

Big business

While it might be stressful to uphold the emotional wellbeing of an army of women, it can also be very lucrative.

“Anything that has his name attached, all the girls go for it. The merchandise or whatever he’s selling or whoever he’s repping, the stuff sells out,” says Sharon, a 56-year-old positive fan from Minnesota, who admits her house is littered with merchandise and products that White has promoted. (White’s $35 teddy bear, which he released through his official merch site, sold out within 10 minutes in February.) “We just want to see him succeed,” Sharon adds, “and that’s really the truth.”

It’s not the only way the influencer profits off his fans. Followers shower White with money through TikTok Live’s “gifts” function and via PayPal donations. During a March TikTok Live Battle Week — in which influencers are pitted against each other to earn the most “gifts” — White was crowned champion after earning a total of 15.3 million “diamonds” in seven days. That translates to roughly $231,740 in spending on behalf of White’s fans. After TikTok took its substantial cut, that meant $76,500 in earnings for White.

The battles can be addictive to fans. “It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of wanting him to win. When your favorite creator may be calling out your name or giving you a follow that day because you gave a lot — it seems like Las Vegas with the slot machines,” says Andrea, who says she spent $300 on White’s last Battle Week. “It’s our fault. We took an impressionable young man and trained him that if he goes live and winks and blows kisses, we’ll throw money at him.”

Meanwhile, a group known as the Grotto Girls — dubbed the GGs by insiders — pool their money and send White a regular stipend. Input has seen recordings of a TikTok Live run by the GGs in which members openly discussed their aim to send White a $3,000 dollar monthly allowance. (Input also has seen screenshots indicating that the GGs met, and sometimes exceeded, this goal, with funds going as high as $5,000 dollars.) When White told fans he was thinking of buying a car, the GGs helped raise $20,000 dollars in 24 hours for just that purpose.

“It was like a cult,” says Tracey, a former member of the GGs. “There'd be people that would be maxing out their credit cards to pay for Will’s allowance. Then they’d go on their own Live that same week and say they didn't have enough money to pay their mortgage.”

Some fans say that the stipend is used by the GGs to hold sway over White. “They keep throwing money at him and donating to him, and then they lose their minds if he doesn’t correspond with them,” says Carol, a 44-year-old neutral fan from Minnesota who was briefly a member of the GGs and is using an alias.

“There are boundary issues. He’s said repeatedly that he doesn’t want anyone coming to the house.”

The group sparked outrage in the wider community last December when it arranged to deliver Christmas presents directly to White’s home, after striking an agreement with the star’s mother. “I was friends with the GG who brought him the [Christmas presents],” Carol says. “She thought she was becoming friends with the family, and I’m not going to discredit that. But there are boundary issues. He’s said repeatedly that he doesn’t want anyone coming to the house.”

During a subsequent TikTok Live, White spoke out against the GG’s appearance at his house, asking followers to respect his privacy. But some fans, like Sharon, another former GG, think the arrangement is fair, given how White benefits from it. “The GGs like the attention and giving him the gifts, but that’s between the family and them,” she says. “I like that he gets things from that. I don’t care who he gets it from. I’m happy for him.”

Kristina thinks Christmas is when the trouble truly began — as fans began to act as though their donations entitled them to time with White. “It’s given fans a lot more access than they should really have,” she says. “Which has led to the stalking.”

Bullying & doxxing

There are many accusations of stalking within Whitey Nation. Fans have accused one community member of traveling to Canada from the U.K. to stay near White’s house in a bid to meet him. Others have been accused of serial stalking, after appearing at several different places White had live-streamed from.

In a September TikTok Live, White told his followers about a fan who drove all the way from Texas with her child and appeared in his driveway. “How the heck did they get my address? I have no idea,” White said to the camera. A few weeks later, in another TikTok Live, he was begging fans to stay away. “You guys can’t come to my house. Just respect my privacy,” he warned.

The GGs have also been embroiled in an alleged stalking scandal. In January, leaked chats revealed that the group has sent members to follow White’s vehicle around his hometown in an attempt to capture pictures of him. Input has seen screenshots of a private Facebook post after the incident occurred, in which the GGs admitted to their involvement in the stalking scandal and issued an apology. (The group declined Input’s interview request.)

“There’s a lot of cruelty and unkindness. It’s very difficult to see.”

The revelations damaged the GG’s reputation and led to an exodus of members, including Andrea. “Driving around and stalking him in random places — that’s not cute,” she says.

Carol believes that the financial ties between the GGs and White led them to overstep their bounds. “They felt entitled. They thought there was a special spot for them in his heart — and maybe there was,” she says. “But that doesn’t mean you should do it. That’s what’s disappointing. We as grown women should know better.”

Former fan Joann echoes her sentiments and says she is worried followers could end up hurting White if their behavior is left unchecked. “You hear about celebrities who have stalkers and things like that, and sometimes things don’t end well,” she says. “You just don’t know what somebody is capable of, y’know?”

Amid all this drama, the troll side often adds fuel to the fire, by making cruel and demeaning posts about White and his positive followers in a bid to “wake up” Whitey Nation from its thirst-trap induced hysteria. “In some cases, these are former fans who’ve become disgruntled. They see that many of these women are being taken advantage of and want them to be careful,” explains Kristina. “But when no one listens to them, they amp it up.”

Trolls circulate embarrassing footage and post mean tweets about their enemies in a bid to shame them, although both sides of the fandom have engaged in bullying and doxxing. In one instance, a fan found her personal tragedy hijacked by the fandom, which used her Twitter announcement of her son’s suicide as a springboard to point fingers about bullying and harassment. “There’s a lot of cruelty and unkindness,” Kristina says. “It’s very difficult to see.”

Daniele Venturelli/WireImage/Getty Images

Joann admits to lashing out at others, which she says was motivated by the cyberbullying she faced from the likes of the GGs for critiquing White. “They don’t want him to ever go away, so they have this insane need to protect him and insulate him from any negative criticism,” says Joann, who has been doxxed amid all the fighting. “It’s all about their selfish needs.”

Although White has occasionally chastised fans over such conflicts, he hasn’t made a concerted public effort to stop it. His willingness to weather constant social media drama and obsessive followers and his frequent pushes for donations have left some fans wondering if White is taking advantage of his community.

In a recent Live Battle, the influencer took fans to task for not reaching “double points,” urging them to spend more to increase his lead on his competitors – something that would of course increase his bank balance. In another Live appearance on March 24, White and his cousin Adam Vatsis — who has started hosting his own TikTok Lives for cougars in the wake of White’s success — began taking and celebrating PayPal donations for their Nana’s rent.

This was the tipping point for Carol. “I’m no longer a fan due to the NanaGate scam. How insulting to her that strangers paid for her housing for absolutely no reason?” she says. Some fans think White has more than enough money to financially support his Nana, and feel like they’re being swindled. “My eyes are now open,” Carol says. “He is lazy and has no interest in being anything other than a mooch.”

Joann agrees that White is manipulating his followers, which is why she counts herself as a former fan. “I call him a grifter, and I don’t think he started out as one,” she says. “But I think he’s well aware he’s milking these women for money. He’s hustling them, and they don’t see it. I want no part in it anymore.”

Still, plenty of fans remain. White’s recent YouTube vlog debut — a poorly edited montage of the influencer opening gifts, including boxer shorts emblazoned with the face of a fan, and barely offering thanks for the items — has been hailed as “brilliant” by his following. Whitey Nation may be bitterly divided, but its handsome young leader continues to do very well for himself.