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Taylor Lorenz on the Evolution of Being “Internet Famous”

The author and journalist tracks the evolution of social media fame—and how the internet has allowed just about anyone to turn their personality into a personal brand.

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In the beginning, there was us and there was them: Us, the regular people, and them, the famous. We watched them on screens, read about them in magazines, and fantasized about what it might be like for us—little old us!—to interact with them.

Early internet allowed us new ways to adore them. IMDB let us track their projects. Primitive message boards connected us with fellow fans. Geocities gave us the power to build fan sites, our own html-crafted altars. But as new social platforms sprang up over the past two decades, regular people discovered how they could wield the internet to not just connect with celebrity status—they could obtain it for themselves.

No one has charted the rise of this new type of fame like Taylor Lorenz, the Washington Post tech columnist who pioneered the internet culture beat. Her new book, Extremely Online: The Untold Story of Fame, Influence, and Power on the Internet, examines the evolution of how the internet democratized the landscape of fame. In the age of social media, just about anyone could turn their personality into a personal brand—and in the meantime, actual brands were forced to compete by projecting human traits onto corporate entities.

“Because our entire world is now mediated by the internet, online influence is one of the most powerful forms of currency,” Lorenz tells us. In this collection, she tracks how we got from the days of looking down on “oversharers” to influencers amassing enough power to take down the platform that made them—and other pivotal moments in social media history.

She Invented Being an Influencer—and Was Vilified for It

Taylor Lorenz
Rolling Stone

“Julia Allison was one of the first multi-platform influencers, but she emerged at a time when social media wasn’t a thing yet. She completely transformed the digital landscape and dealt with just vicious misogyny because of it. Her story says a lot about how women pioneered the modern internet, often at a great cost to themselves.” -Taylor Lorenz

The Number-One Girl

Isaiah Wilner
New York Magazine

TL: “This story about Socialite Rank, a 2006-era blog, gives a preview about what the internet would become. It’s one of the first examples of the internet upending elite society.”

The American Room

Paul Ford

TL: “As social media became ubiquitous, we began to get a peek inside once private spaces. This piece is one of my favorite things written about the internet and American culture.”

Brand Twitter Grows Up

Nathan Allebach

TL: “The definitive history of brand history on the internet, written by the man who pioneered some of the most iconic brands online.”

Influencer Creep

Sophie Bishop
Real Life Mag

TL: “This piece from Real Life Mag shows how we’re all pressured to commodify ourselves on the internet these days, no matter who we are or what we do.”

Taylor Lorenz

Taylor Lorenz is the author of Extremely Online and a technology columnist for The Washington Post’s business section covering online culture. Previously, she was a technology reporter for The New York Times business section, The Atlantic, and The Daily Beast. Her writing has appeared in New York magazine, Rolling StoneOutside magazine, Fast Company, and more. She often appears on CNN, MSNBC, NBC, and the BBC. She was a 2019 Knight Visiting Nieman Fellow at Harvard University and is a former affiliate at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society. Lorenz was named to Fortune’s 40 Under 40 list of leaders in Media and Entertainment in 2020. Adweek included her in their Young Influentials Who Are Shaping Media, Marketing and Tech listing, stating that Lorenz “contextualizes the internet as we live it.” In 2022, Town & Country magazine named her to their New Creative Vanguards list of a rising generation of creatives, calling her “The Bob Woodward of the TikTok generation.” She lives in Los Angeles, and you can follow her @TaylorLorenz on Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube.