I Was the Leader of the Biggest ‘Cult’ On TikTok

2020 was a unique – and uniquely boring – time in human history. Looking back at some of the big cultural phenomena from the dark era of the pandemic, it’s possible to see just how deprived of fun and connection we all were. A great example of this was a TikTok ‘comedy cult’ named “Step Chickens.” It was neither funny nor a real cult, but briefly took the internet by storm at a time when the outside world was off-limits because it might kill you.

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The leader, or “Mother Hen,” of Step Chickens was a woman living in the US named Melissa Ong. The name of the group stemmed from a series of parody TikTok videos Ong made for an imaginary, chicken-based porn site called “CornHub,” in which she wore a chicken suit while lampooning the common sex-movie trope of step-siblings seducing one another.

What started as “a high idea that I had when I was stoned at 3 a.m.” quickly brought Ong a huge following. She began to issue commandments, ordering her loyal subjects to change their profile pictures to a selfie of her own face. She encouraged them to storm the comments sections of other users’ pages and spam them en masse. (One such user was Phil Swift, creator of Flex Tape and the inspiration for countless memes in certain corners of the internet.)

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Soon, more than a million followers were pledging their allegiance to Ong by adopting her selfie. Highlighting just how messed up that period was, among them were the Washington Post, sports teams like the Houston Rockets and Kansas City Chiefs, and the state of Ohio. By May 25th, 2020, TikTok videos hashtagged #stepchickens had drawn 102 million views.

“I do feel like a real cult leader,” Ong confessed to VICE at the time, with a straight face and a tongue presumably wedged deep inside her cheek. “It feels like I actually have a real religion. People will do what I say. I feel like I do have influencer-power to craft this narrative a lot of people want to be a part of.”

Given her phenomenal success, it was only natural that she aspired to reach beyond TikTok.

“My end goal with the Step Chickens has always been total internet domination,” Ong said back in 2020. “When I saw that we completely took over and shook up TikTok, I was like, ‘Wow, with this kind of power, we could really take over the entire internet.’”

Spoiler alert: this never happened. Yet Ong can draw consolation from the fact she was once the leader of TikTok’s biggest personality cult, that the world eventually came out of lockdown, and that she inspired so many people. “I’m living proof that you don’t need to be good-looking or talented in order to get famous or successful,” she said.