Clout, crypto or hype? Here are the internet’s worst eras

From ignorant influencers to endless dance crazes, social media really has given us a lot to despise over the past decade.

Whether it’s live Tweeting through Love Island, sharing your thrifting finds, discussing the political landscape, or posting a two-minute-long TikTok about your totally exciting day in the life, we all thrive off shared experiences on the internet. And while communities exist far and wide for the most niche of subjects, it’s those moments where we all come together in the millions to either join in, laugh at, or scold a particular mass movement that remains in the memory for years to come and become etched into internet folklore. So, in celebration of these moments, we thought we’d take a look back at the worst eras in internet history (you know, the ones we couldn’t wait to be over). And while they range from the harmlessly stupid to potentially damaging to society, one thing’s for sure: they don’t last forever. 

The Clout Era (2016 – 2019)

Let’s take a journey back to 2016-2019. The infamous Soundcloud era of hip-hop took social media, and even the mainstream, by storm. Rap’s hyper-punk and vibrantly rugged sound emerged from the depths of Soundcloud. Artists like Lil Pump, Playboi Carti, Lil Yachty, and many more were not just setting the internet ablaze, but also the charts. The endless sorrow of XXXTentacion’s ‘SAD!’ and the zaniness of Lil Pump’s ‘Gucci Gang’ helped popularise a sound once perched in rap’s subterrane, which paved the way for other purple-haired and tattoo-faced stars like Juice WRLD, Lil Xan, Tekashi69, and Trippie Redd to enter the genre’s newest musical locus. With their arrival, a new legion of artists rolled in with microwaveable hits that fed Internet drifters and school-aged Gen-Z’ers in search of an artist that emanates today’s rebellion. However, the music was by far the worst thing to come out of the clout era.

Pretty quickly, wannabe influencers realised they could capitalise on extreme ignorance, and so a flood of shocking content would begin to drench our feeds. There were the likes of Lil Tay, the 10-year-old self-proclaimed “youngest flexer”; Boonk Gang, who would quite literally rob stores and call it a “prank”; and Woah Vicky, a caucasian woman pretending to be Black who would regularly spout out racial slurs. These individuals would do anything for views – and it worked. It was almost like watching a car crash; no matter how god-awful the content was, we just couldn’t look away from the insanity of it all. They all racked up millions of views, followers, and likes and, as a result, received a handsome paycheck. Still, it couldn’t last forever, and just as the Soundcloud era of music began to die out following the death of its major stars (XXXTentacion, Juice WRLD and Lil Peep all passed away between 2017 and 2019), so did the clout era. Suddenly, it wasn’t shocking anymore. I mean, after you’ve seen someone commit multiple robberies on camera, you really have seen it all. And as time went on, those aforementioned names would submerge into obscurity, only regaining a minor fraction of their engagement.

The Hype Era (2013 – 2018)

Aligning with the aforementioned clout era, the hype era was yet another defined by loud displays of self-expression (if you can call it that). I’m sure you’ll remember the days when Supreme box logos were more sought after than diamonds, and whatever A$AP Rocky or Kanye West threw on or endorsed was sold out within minutes. Streetwear was king, with the late Virgil Abloh’s Off-White becoming a cultural zeitgeist alongside a slew of other brands that seemingly managed to take over the world in an incredibly short period quite like never before (who could forget AntiSocialSocialClub?).

Hypebeasts were everywhere; even those not in tune with the culture were rocking the infamous yellow Off-White industrial belt or a pair of retro Jordans. And while we still see remnants of that today, fashion has (thankfully) become much more diverse over the past few years, in part thanks to the accessibility and shared knowledge across the likes of TikTok rather than spending hours scouring through forums or blogs for fashion tips that were previously gatekept.

The Dance Era (2018 – 2021)

Remember when TikTok wasn’t a place you could go to self-diagnose a hyper-specific mental illness? Or watch someone behave like an NPC for hours on end? Those were the days, right? Well, not really. If you remember correctly, before the pandemic, TikTok was mostly known as a platform where teens and children would upload millions of videos showing them performing some viral dance moves. In fact, these short clips ended up producing some of the biggest online (and IRL) celebrities we know today. Addison Rae, who joined TikTok in 2019, now has 88m followers on the app and rubs shoulders with the Kardashians. Meanwhile, Charlie D’Amelio sits at a whopping 151m followers on TikTok and appeared in her own reality TV show, The D’Amelio Show, in 2021. Besides the two most prominent names, influencers were sprouting up from TikTok rapidly, and it seemed as though it was doomed to suffer the fate of its predecessor, Musically, which would forever be remembered as a cringe kids app. Still, such was the massive user base that content shifted from dances to everything from relationship advice to watching a British man devour a roast dinner in two chews. And just like that, the dance era came to an end.

The Crypto Era (2019 – 2023)

Shortly after the clout era ended, we wandered into a new era that was just as insufferable – the crypto era. It started with humble beginnings; after Crypto coins such as Bitcoin and Ethereum saw astronomical increases in their value since their introductions in 2009 and 2013, respectably, early investors began to make huge profits. Those who managed to change their lives over a Bitcoin they purchased way back weren’t the issue, though. Eventually, cryptocurrency’s popularity started booming; new coins were popping up almost every day, and tips were being exchanged on what currency would next be going “to the moon”. Then, celebrities started to endorse cryptocurrency, leading to their fans pumping a shed load of capital into them and the coin owners pulling out all their investments once the coin reached peak value (often referred to as a ‘pump and dump’ scheme). But perhaps worst of all was NFTs – which peaked in popularity between 2021 and 2022. At one moment in time, they were all over the internet like a bad rash. You couldn’t scroll through Twitter without someone sharing their JPEG of a poorly illustrated, ridiculous-looking ape they just splashed out hundreds of thousands of pounds (if not millions) for. Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs in particular were considered the creme de la creme, but as time has progressed, they’ve fallen just as fast as they rose. In July 2023, the NFTs saw an 88% decrease from their peak median price in August 2022, and if that doesn’t mark the end of these pricy digital pictures – and the crypto craze as a whole – we don’t know what does.

The Matrix Era (2021 – current)

Sure, conspiracies have always played a major role in internet culture – but since 2021, those tin foil hats have multiplied. While conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones have maintained a strong following on the web for many years (even despite his deplorable denial of the Sandy Hook mass shooting), it wasn’t until Andrew Tate burst onto the scene with his matrix, red-pill mumbo jumbo that the masses really started to take notice. Of course, we could sit here and write a whole essay on why the accused human trafficker might not be the best role model, voice of reason or bearer of the truth, but that’s not the purpose of this article. For the unaware, “the matrix” is a term Tate often uses to refer to the corrupt society he believes we all live in, and that wants to see him taken down. You know, theories like the government wants to make men more feminine and COVID was all about controlling the population – that sort of thing. And so, an army of teenage boys (and embarrassingly, men) ran with it and began to take it as gospel. Still, it’s not just conspiracy theories that were birthed from the Matrix era; there was also an epidemic of alpha male self-help gurus shamefully following in Tate’s footsteps. God only knows how many TikToks, Reels, or YouTube shorts have been uploaded in the past few years of wannabe Tate’s telling men that women will never respect them if they don’t own a Lamborghini, or that a woman is an accessory or that depression isn’t real backed up by over the top editing and ridiculously dramatic music. Thankfully, though, this content has slowly begun to die down ever since Tate’s arrest in late December of 2022, and it seems as though this insufferable era is all but coming to an end. 

WriterChris Saunders