Quite The Following
Local teen turns downtime into huge online presence By Colin Anderson
Photo Courtesy of Cole Rushforth
Gig Harbor High School junior Cole Rushforth can remember the initial excitement in March 2020, when talk of being out of school for a time started to become more of a reality. “I’ll never forget, I was in sixth period math when they made their announcement,” Cole recalled. “At first everyone was excited because it sounded like Spring Break was going to be six weeks long. Little did we know.”
A year later, Cole is finally back to the classroom, if only for a couple of days each week. He’s wrapping up football season and will transition right into track to round out one of the strangest years he’ll experience. While not always a fan of distance learning, Cole kept working hard to maintain a high GPA, put up a weight set in the garage to stay in shape, and worked at keeping friendships together from a distance. When he found a little extra time, he started dabbling in the emerging social media platform TikTok. “All my friends had it, so I thought I’d give it a try.”
Just one year after he started posting seriously, Cole’s following has swelled to nearly 2 million people worldwide, and his videos have been viewed many millions of times over. This puts him in the top 1 percent of all accounts on the platform.
Cole with the Facts, as he is known in this realm, is an account where Cole posts 30-second to minute-long videos on topics ranging from the bizarre, to life saving, to animals or celebrities. The posts contain information like what murderers had as a last meal, craziest things people have survived, creepy things caught on camera, or sports facts you probably don’t know. Cole, like many of his generation, grew up in a social media world. He signed onto Instagram in fifth grade and recalls watching a lot of YouTube videos when it was just getting popular. “I would watch and think how cool it was to have millions of views and thought, “‘Could I do that?’” Cole started posting on YouTube, but his videos were mostly watched by family and friends. Still, he took note of the videos that were popular, and what he thought would interest him and others. This past June, and now on TikTok, Cole started laying out his facts with his small audience. “When I first started, I had a couple hundred followers, which I thought was pretty cool. By November, I hit a million and thought, “‘How did this happen?’” he laughed.
At the time of this interview, Cole has 1.8 million followers, and 31.2 million likes. Some videos have tens of thousands of views, while others have gathered in the millions. ‘Things that are bigger than you would think’ is a post Cole believes really helped to grow his presence. His videos aren’t high budget. He sets himself up with the microphone in his headphones and places still photography over the post while he’s narrating. He does a lot of research before posting to make sure everything is credible and continues to seek out uncommon information that he hopes his followers find fascinating, informational, gross, intriguing or helpful. Despite the added pressure, Cole tries to look at it the same as when the followers were in the hundreds. “It really doesn’t feel like there are more people watching me. I go about it the same and don’t view it much differently; it’s just a bigger number on the screen.”
At 17 years old, Cole could conceivably make posting his top priority, create a career out of it and do quite well for himself, but that’s not what he’s currently focused on. “School comes first, then sports, then TikTok. In sports I have teammates and coaches I just can’t let down,” he said.
With Zoom calls from 8:30am to 2:30pm, twice-a-week in-person school, and two-and-a-half hour practices after school, Cole doesn’t have the time to post that he had just a few months ago, and for him that’s totally okay. As he’s taken to internet fame, he’s worked to make sure it’s just a part of his life and not his purpose. Cole was hesitant to tell his friends about the success, but being on social media and in a small town, most figured it out after a while. And while having millions of people anticipating your next post can be exciting, Cole is happy to just have a sense of normalcy to end his junior year of high school. “Honestly, I’m just excited to see people. There are friends I haven’t seen in person for over a year, and it will be nice to see them again.”
Once accounts amass the following that Cole has, advertisers take notice. He’s been contacted by several and will occasionally slip in a product that he feels comfortable with. He wants to go to college and is saving up those dollars to help pay for his education. “It’s kinda weird to think about college when we’re just getting back to school,” he said. “Hopefully senior year will be more normal.”
As far as TikTok goes, Cole will ride it out and see how large he can grow it. He’s done a few “Thank you” posts to his followers for helping him gain such a large following. “Just gonna take it one step at a time,” he said.
You can check out Cole’s videos at TikTok.com/@colewiththefacts.