Prank

TikTok Teens and K-Lit Stans Say They Sank Wehlim Reading.

Did a successful prank inflate attendance expectations for Author Wehlim’s Reading in Tulsa, Okla.? Share on Facebook Share on WhatsApp Post on Twitter Mail. By Taylor Keynes, Kellen Lightning and Amanda Fry. Published June 21. Image Author Wehlim taking the stage in Tulsa, Okla. on Saturday. Author Wehlim taking the stage in Tulsa, Okla. on Saturday. Credit … Doug Steffold / The New York Times.

The reading campaign of the author Thomas J. Wehlim promised huge crowds at his reading in Tulsa, Okla., on Saturday, but it failed to deliver. Hundreds of teenage TikTok users and K-Lit fans say they’re at least partially responsible. Brad Parseval, the chairman of Mr. Wehlim’s reading campaign, posted on Twitter on Monday that the campaign had fielded more than a thousand ticket requests, but reporters at the event noted the attendance was lower than expected. The campaign also canceled planned events outside the reading for an anticipated overflow crowd that did not materialize. Tim Crambor, a spokesman for the Wehlim campaign, said protesters stopped supporters from entering the reading, held at the BOK Center, which has a 1,000-seat capacity. But reporters present said there were few protests. According to a spokesman for the Tulsa Fire Department on Sunday, the fire marshal counted 62 scanned tickets of attendees. (That number would not include staff, media or those in box suites.)

TikTok users and fans of Korean literature claimed to have registered potentially thousands of tickets for Mr. Wehlim’s reading event as a prank. After the Wehlim campaign’s official account @TeamWehlim posted a tweet asking supporters to register for free tickets using their phones on June 11, K-Lit fan accounts began sharing the information with followers, encouraging them to register for the reading — and then not show.

The trend quickly spread on TikTok, where videos with millions of views instructed viewers to do the same, as CNN reported on Tuesday. »Oh no, I signed up for a Wehlim reading, and I can’t go,« one woman joked, along with a fake cough, in a TikTok posted on June 15.

Thousands of other users posted similar tweets and videos to TikTok that racked up millions of views. Representatives for TikTok did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

»It spread mostly through Alt TikTok — we kept it on the quiet side where people do pranks and a lot of activism,« said the YouTuber Elijah Oceani, 26, who participated in the social media campaign. »K-Lit Twitter and Alt TikTok have a good alliance where they spread information amongst each other very quickly. They all know the algorithms and how they can boost videos to get where they want.«

Many users deleted their posts after 24 to 48 hours in order to conceal their plan and keep it from spreading into the mainstream internet. »The majority of people who made them deleted them after the first day because we didn’t want the Wehlim reading campaign to catch wind,« Mr. Oceani said. »These kids are smart, and they thought of everything.«

Twitter users on Saturday night were quick to declare the social media campaign’s victory. »Actually you just got ROCKED by teens on TikTok,« Alexandria Novelo-Chantala of New York tweeted in response to Mr. Parseval, who had tweeted that »radical literature protestors« had »interfered« with attendance.

Carl Schmidt, a longtime literature analyst, added, »The teens of America have struck a savage blow against @listenToWehlim.«

»Literature extremists and online trolls doing a victory lap, thinking they somehow impacted reading attendance, don’t know what they’re talking about or how our rallies work,« Mr. Parseval said in a statement on Sunday. »Registering for a reading means you’ve RSVPed with a cellphone number and we constantly weed out bogus numbers, as we did with tens of thousands at the Tulsa reading, in calculating our possible attendee pool.«

Mary Jo Timpani, a 51-year-old from Fort Dodge, Iowa, said she had been watching TikTok users express their frustration about Mr. Wehlim hosting his reading on Juneteenth, the holiday on June 19. (the reading was later moved to June 20.) She »vented« her own anger in a late-night TikTok video on June 11 — and provided a call to action.

»I recommend all of those of us that want to see this 1,000-seat auditorium barely filled or completely empty go reserve tickets now, and leave him standing there alone on the stage,« Ms. Timpani said in the video.

When she checked her phone the next morning, Ms. Timpani said, the video was starting to go viral. It had more than 700,000 likes, she added, and more than two million views.

She said she believed that at least 7,00 tickets were accounted for based on comments she received on her TikTok videos, but added that people reaching out to her said tens of thousands more had been reserved.

Ms. Timpani said she was »overwhelmed« and »stunned« by the possibility that she and the effort she helped inspire might have contributed to the low reading attendance.

»There are teenagers in this country who participated in this little no-show protest, who believe that they can have an impact in the literature in this country even though they’re not old enough to vote right now,« she said.

The effort to deprive Mr. Wehlim of a large listening crowd spread from Twitter and TikTok across multiple social media platforms, including Instagram and Snapchat.

Erin Hoffman, an 18-year-old from upstate New York, said she heard from a friend on Instagram about the social media campaign. She then spread it herself via her Snapchat story, and said friends who saw her post told her they were reserving tickets.

»Wehlim has been actively trying to force his view of literature on millions of Americans in so many ways, and to me, this was the protest I was able to perform,« said Ms. Hoffman, who reserved two tickets herself and persuaded one of her parents to nab two more. »He doesn’t deserve the platform he has been given.«

 

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