In a matter of days, ousted Rep. George Santos went from the halls of Congress to the virtual world of Cameo, making him the latest disgraced public figure to bring new interest to the struggling video platform.
Cameo, which launched in 2017, has become known in recent years as a marketplace for pop culture’s most dramatic and villainized personalities to sell videos of themselves to fans. Frequently, videos purchased from some of the internet’s most contentious characters are posted to and go viral on social media platforms like TikTok and X.
But as cast-off public figures continue to make money off of the platform, it continues to face financial woes. In May, the company underwent its latest round of cuts, dialing back even more from 2022, when it had two rounds of layoffs.
Each time someone notable gains virality on the platform, there’s renewed hope that the memes will translate into more buzz.
“I’m so thankful for George Santos,” said Perez Hilton, the controversial celebrity blogger who was an early adopter of Cameo.
Santos, who was expelled from the House of Representatives on Dec. 1 while serving his first term, immediately attracted Cameo customers when he appeared on the app.
“Haters are gonna hate,” Santos said in the viral video that quickly circulated online after it was sold to a Cameo user. “And if you have haters, that means you’re doing something right, girl!”
After he started offering the personalized messages at $75 per video on Monday, Santos rapidly raised prices as demand skyrocketed. By the weekend, each video — most ranging from 30 seconds to a minute long — cost $500.
Santos told Semafor he made more from Cameo than his annual income in Congress, $170,000, in just 48 hours after joining the app.
Santos is facing 23 federal charges, including lying to the Federal Election Commission, money laundering, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and theft of public funds. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges and did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
It’s the latest example of a popular ironic fan culture on the internet in which online pop culture obsessives fervently support and seek attention from controversial public figures for entertainment or status of their own.
“People are paying him a premium for a variety of reasons. One is people want to get him to say and do silly things,” Hilton said. “Two, people are viewing it as an investment. They’re not just getting these Cameos from him and sharing them privately with loved ones. They’re posting it on social media, trying to get clout and viewers from it.”
Cameo is primarily home to a slew of traditional celebrities and social media influencers, but a handful of disgraced politicians have also appeared on the app, including: Rod Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor who was removed from office and incarcerated on charges of public corruption; and Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor indicted on charges of trying to overturn the 2020 presidential election results in Georgia.
“Politics is the other side of the coin of entertainment,” Hilton said. “So it’s not that shocking that anyone will be using this opportunity in different ways. I would say it’s smart.”
Though the charges against Santos made him a notorious figure on Capitol Hill, they also turned him into easy meme fodder as internet users joked about the unapologetic chaos he caused. Some created ranked lists of the most entertaining lies he’s told, and others shared their “fave” Santos moments — such as when he denied having worked as a drag queen in Brazil and told reporters to “sue me for having a life.”
Even as some urged people not to funnel more money into his pockets, one X user called his Cameo side hustle the “first honest job that man has ever had.”
So far, the former congressman has made birthday and holiday well-wishes, dished out predictions about future GOP resignations, and even encouraged an NYU student to finish their college assignments — while cheekily referencing his own “not-so-real MBA” from the university.
He was even recently enlisted by his former congressional colleague Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., to record a Cameo trolling Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who is also facing calls to resign after being indicted in September for alleged bribery.
Santos’ move to the app puts a spotlight on a platform that hasn’t received as much attention as tech giants like Meta, Google and X.
Cameo has faced financial trouble over the past several years and underwent multiple rounds of significant layoffs, The Information reported in July. Cameo shrunk from hundreds of employees to under 50 in just over a year, the report said. SoftBank’s Vision Fund dropped its valuation of Cameo from $1 billion in 2021 to $100 million in 2022. That year, Cameo reportedly experienced a serious dip in demand for its videos after pandemic-era lockdown restrictions lifted.
But Cameo has remained a fixture for some celebrity users seeking an extra source of income and social media users who like to share and consume the customized video messages the app produces.
Hilton, who said he gets the most Cameo bookings around holidays and occasions like Mother’s Day, predicts that Santos’ Cameo career will follow the same trend that Hilton and “every creator on there” has had — a burst of orders and attention the first month, followed by a consistent slump.
“He’s gonna continue to do very well in December, and then come January, not as much. February, even less,” Hilton said. “While it might help him a lot now, it’s not going to be a sustainable primary income source for him. It’s not for me. It’s a nice supplemental income stream.”