Anonymous Fizzfluencers: The secret social media celebrities of Stanford

April 12, 2023, 12:49 a.m.

Editor’s Note: The Fizz users interviewed in this article requested anonymity for fear of retribution given the sensitive nature of their anonymous posts on the social media platform. They are referred to by their Fizz leaderboard names.

A nervous first-year sits at the coffee-stained table outside CoHo, fidgeting with his small vanilla latte and nudging his glasses up even when they aren’t slipping off his face. Throngs of people mill in and around, waiting in the perennially long line at the Tresidder Package Center or walking out of the coffee shop, hands full with lattes. But none of the scores of Stanford students pay the man at the table a second glance.

It’s unusual. He is, after all, a campus celebrity.

The frosh at the table is one of the most up-voted users of Stanford’s branch of the popular anonymous social media platform “Fizz.” The app allows students to post using pseudonyms or with the placeholder name, “Anonymous.” Posts then lie at the mercy of other users, who can upvote or downvote the content on their feeds. An in-app leaderboard finally ranks the thousands of Stanford Fizz users by how much “karma,” or net amount of votes, they receive on their posts. The leading users — fizzfluencers — can claim exclusive pseudonyms and take their positions at the top of the leaderboard.

“It’s not ‘influencer,’ but more like ‘influence,’” said Sunny Liu, associate director of the Stanford Social Media Lab, regarding the effect that fizzfluencers have on the platform. “The impacts are still the same, but the connection, the identity, and the self-presentation aspects are less obvious on Fizz.”

Because of the users’ anonymity, students say not many Fizz users think about the Fizz-famous celebrities hiding in their midst.

“I don’t really care about fizzfluencers,” said Colin McKhann ’26. “It’s all just sort of a content machine, and I guess I don’t really care who the content is coming from.”

Using the Breaking Bad-inspired pseudonym “Heisenberg,” the first-year with the vanilla latte holds the third spot on the overall Stanford Fizz leaderboard with over 250,000 karma. Due to privacy concerns over more intimate posts dealing with personal conflicts, Heisenberg declined to share his real name for the article.

Fizz, an iOS-exclusive app, burst onto Stanford’s social media scene in August 2021. After the app quickly gained traction among Stanford students, founders Ashton Cofer ’24 and Teddy Solomon ’24 left Stanford to pursue the business full-time. As of November 2022, roughly 95% of Stanford iPhone users had downloaded the app, the founders of Fizz claimed to TechCrunch.

“Fizz is the only social media community that represents Stanford as a whole, because it’s exclusively Stanford people on there,” said Heisenberg. Users must authenticate their Stanford email address to access Stanford’s branch of Fizz.

Heisenberg said that he downloaded the app just prior to arriving on campus in the fall. By the end of Thanksgiving break, he was top ten on the leaderboard. As of March 5, Heisenberg had posted 1,868 times. 

“Sometimes I try to post a funny post or a super relatable post, but most of my posts are just random thoughts,” Heisenberg said. His posts include musings over a pretty sky, vents about roommate troubles and questions regarding the proper technique for a razor.

Now, months after entering the leaderboard, Heisenberg said that he doesn’t really think about his fizzfluencer fame.

“I’m not going to sit on my bed smiling at the ceiling like, ‘damn, I’m on the leaderboard,’” Heisenberg said. It’s anonymous, after all, and he said it was never a dream of his.

According to Heisenberg, the anonymity of Fizz lends him security, the liberty to share his personal thoughts and freedom from judgment. Though he rarely uses his leaderboard-specific username, Heisenberg holds no intentions of giving up that, or his fizzfluencer status. “Even though it’s anonymous, seeing your karma count go up, it’s some level of validation,” Heisenberg said.

The sixth-ranked user, a sophomore psychology major who goes by “dr. lesbian,” said that she doesn’t hold the same ambitions of increasing her karma. However, like Heisenberg, dr. lesbian spoke only under the condition of anonymity, citing concerns about outing her sexual orientation to others on campus.

“I didn’t intend to become a fizzfluencer,” dr. lesbian said. “It just kind of happened. I don’t post for karma, that’s not my goal. I just like sharing my thoughts.”

dr. lesbian currently sits at just over 195,000 karma. She posts, on average, twice a day about campus happenings, puns or any interesting photos she’s taken that day. Her most upvoted post is a picture of Lake Lagunita.

“I just want to make people laugh,” dr. lesbian said. “I want people to see my posts and be like, ‘I like that.’ Because school is hard. Life is hard.”

dr. lesbian said that she understands the appeal of an anonymous social media site for Stanford students.

“So many people here are self-conscious and afraid of judgment,” dr. lesbian said. “We’re at a big school with a lot of students who are super influential and have done so many great things, so there’s kind of a fear when you come here that you won’t match up to expectations.”

According to Liu of the Stanford Social Media Lab, Fizz can provide relief from this pressure.

“We call this an online disinhibition effect,” said Liu. “When we are anonymous, people feel safer and more free to express what they want to share and talk about.”

Some students said that this effect makes Fizz a more relatable and interesting platform. 

“People post that they didn’t get great grades that quarter or are really struggling or they feel imposter syndrome or they’re confused about something that everybody seems to get,” Kate Esbenshade ’25 said. “I think there can be a lot of people in the comments or up voting who can resonate with that.”

With this creative freedom, some Fizz users have become quite prolific. The No. 1 user on Fizz, “The FBI,” has accrued over 500,000 karma, almost double the karma of the fizzfluencer in second place.

“I don’t think that’s attainable,” Heisenberg said of the No. 1 spot on the leaderboard. “Because you kind of have to give up having a life to get to that point.”

The FBI — mimicking the secrecy of their real-life counterpart — declined an interview. They did, however, critique the term “fizzfluencer,” offering replacements like “fizzician,” “fizzicist” and “fizzical trainer” through private messages on Fizz.

Some students said that they believe The FBI should be more forthcoming about their success.

“If you’re number one, own it,” said Kaitlyn Leitherer ’26. “Put that on your resume.”

However, none of the fizzfluencers — even the ones who agreed to be interviewed — were willing to own their identities.

According to the Fizz influencers interviewed, the choice to remain anonymous is not without reason. As a cautionary tale for stepping into the sun, Heisenberg offered a story from last year.

In October, Heisenberg said that he responded to another user’s post on Fizz through direct messages, striking a conversation between the two that lasted for weeks.

The pair spoke frequently on Fizz about their daily lives, hopes and fears, and TV show recommendations (she recommended he watch Breaking Bad). Four weeks later, as Heisenberg scrolled through Instagram, he recognized something: a topic they had talked about earlier appeared in an Instagram story on his feed. He said that he knew he had found her, but he asked her anyway to confirm.

She ghosted him. It was the last time Heisenberg cried, he said.

Heisenberg texted her for the last time in January after he binge-watched Breaking Bad. He said he wanted her to know he liked the show. As a final homage, he changed his nom de Fizz to “Heisenberg.”

Despite his disappointment, Heisenberg — an influencer who said he thrives on anonymity — said he understands why she didn’t respond.

“I probably should have respected the fact that they wanted to stay anonymous,” Heisenberg said.

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