Astrology Community: Plagiarism Accusations on TikTok Spotlight Divide - Rolling Stone
×
×
Home Culture Culture News

A TikTok Astrologer Is Under Fire Following Plagiarism Accusations

BIPOC astrologers say that 22-year-old Maren Altman stole their work, and it’s exposing deeper issues within the community

Zodiac signs and smart phone in hand. Concept of modern astrology.

Monika Wisniewska/Adobe Stock

Last year, on September 20th, AstroDim, a spiritual content creator and astrologer with more than 29,000 followers on TikTok, posted a 15-part video series espousing the astrological theory that the Great Conjunction — the moment when Jupiter and Saturn are at the same degree in the sky — was linked to presidents either being assassinated, being subject to an assassination attempt, or dying in office. “I know, bold-ass statement, but trust me, astrology is telling me something,” she says before going on to outline the the basis for the theory.

On October 1st, in the comments for the video, someone tagged Maren Altman, a 22-year-old TikTok astrologer with more than a million followers, to ask her what she thought of the video. “I’ve done a lot of research on the great conjunction throughout history and haven’t seen this at all,” Altman wrote.

AstroDim was perturbed by the dismissive comment, in part because of how comparatively large Altman’s platform is. “I have had healthy debates about astrology. I have had positive interactions with people who disagreed with me,” says AstroDim. “[But] people are gonna go with the most popular person and say, ‘she has the most followers. If she’s saying it’s wrong, it’s wrong.'” The interaction left her with a sour taste in her mouth, so she blocked Altman and unfollowed her.

In several follow-up videos posted in October and November, Altman continued to refute the theory on TikTok, saying in one video about Biden, “Biden’s general health timing doesn’t have anything overtly challenging in the 2020s coming up. Doesn’t mean he couldn’t die, I’m just not seeing any atrocity.” In a video posted in November, Altman said of Biden, “I’m gonna say flat out that I do not see any indications of violent death.”

Then, a little more two months later, AstroDim’s followers messaged her about a video Altman had recently posted. In the video, Altman predicted that Biden would die in office because each time Jupiter and Saturn had met, a president had “both died or had an assassination try” — the same theory she had publicly refuted in AstroDim’s comments months earlier. AstroDim was furious. “I believe she never would’ve made that video if she hadn’t seen mine,” she says. “And I just wanted her to give proper credit.”

In response to AstroDim’s allegation, Altman provided Rolling Stone a shooting script for a Jupiter/Saturn conjunction video created September 26th, six days after AstroDim’s video was posted. “I’m gonna say it: I think Biden’s gonna die in office,” the script says, though Rolling Stone could not determine when that specific note was added. Altman did not immediately make herself available for an interview.

Now, AstroDim is just one of many creators in the astrology community currently alleging Altman plagiarized their work. And though Altman has vigorously denied stealing other people’s work — and posted two lengthy videos apologizing for any harm caused — the controversy has highlighted numerous divides in the astrology community, as well as in the TikTok creator community as a whole.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YYgcrM0lch8

A recent NYU philosophy graduate with alabaster skin and razor-sharp cheekbones, Altman has built an extensive following on TikTok for her quirky and eminently relatable videos, ranging from daily horoscopes to sultry mirror selfies to memes with titles like “signs most likely to catfish.” Following her predictions that Joe Biden would win the general election, she’s become widely known as “the astrologer who called the election,” earning her glowing profiles in Paper magazine, Reuters, and The CutShe also gained attention for making TikToks predicting Trump attacking the election results and an “uprising” following the election (though whether this falls into the category of a prediction, or an analysis based on simply watching the news, is up for debate).

Altman has also garnered a fan base among cryptocurrency enthusiasts on Twitter and TikTok for her Bitcoin and Ethereum price predictions, foreshadowing fluctuating Bitcoin prices based on planetary alignments; some of her predictions have been accurate enough that she was cited as a source in a Reuters article on TikTok influencers posting cryptocurrency content. Cryptocurrency reporter Leigh Cuen says this is a “lucrative niche.” “I think lots of crypto boys love to simp for hot women who talk about crypto,” she says. “[Altman] does it in a funny and unique way.”

On Altman’s website, Astrology Academy, she charges her followers 12 monthly payments of $139 or a onetime payment of $1,499 to gain access to her community Facebook group and to regular consultations with her. And people are apparently seeking her services in droves: in one interview, she claims to make up to five figures some months, and has 1,000 members in her Astrology Academy community.

Over the past few days, however, Altman has been the subject of intense controversy on social media. Much of it stemmed from a series of TikToks by the astrologer MelenatedMomma, highlighting three instances where Altman had criticized the work of a black creator or creator of color in a comment, and then subsequently made a video espousing similar theories. The series also highlighted some comments Altman had made on social media, such as a tweet appearing to comparing eating animals to the Holocaust (Altman is a vegan), tweets appearing to mock people’s pronouns, and TikToks that appear to mock the concept of nonbinary or gender fluid people, with one captioned “Aquarius at a job interview” featuring her saying, “I’m a nonbinary breathtarian Marxist with a severe peanut allergy.” In another meme, she pretends to be a Pisces, saying, “I’m gender-fluid and today I’m more female-identifying.”

In response to the claims featured in MelenatedMomma’s series, Altman tweeted a thread apologizing to AstroDim for being dismissive toward her, though she denied allegations of plagiarism. “I can genuinely say I create my own content, with hours of work + study in traditional astrology. I do not look to take what others have made and never will,” she wrote. “If similarities occur because I talk about similar subjects, that is bound to happen due to the historic study of astrology & the same techniques being used by astrologers today + for thousands of years, but I wholeheartedly can say I would never flat-out take someone’s content.”

In a nearly 20-minute YouTube video titled “final explanation,” which was posted on February 8th, a somber Altman apologized for her offensive comments and said she would go on a brief hiatus. “There needs to be so much growth that I’m going to take the rest of mercury retrograde to go inward,” adding, “I am incredibly problematic with the things that I’ve said, the content I’ve created and the actions I have taken in order to communicate with others.” She apologized for her tweet about the Holocaust, mentioning that she thought it was acceptable at the time because her grandmother was a Holocaust survivor, as well as her recent comments about gender pronouns, calling them “unacceptable.” “If I’m not a person that understands what it’s like to deal with that kind of an identity and the challenges that come with it, how dare I make any sort of comment around that,” she said.

@sitaradidi

#stitch with @marenaltman ik peoples intentions aren’t bad but I think this gets Weird. a lot of reasons I didn’t even bring up here #astrology

♬ Body – Megan Thee Stallion

It is not uncommon for members of the astrology community to build off each other’s work or cite each other’s theories — indeed, AstroDim says, her video about the Great Conjunction was inspired by the work of other astrologers, whom she credited in a March 2020 Twitter thread. But Altman’s financial astrology predictions, which have contributed to the explosive growth of her platform over the past few months, have also come under scrutiny.

On Twitter, a UK-based financial astrologer named Kate who goes by the handle @ProfitWithThePlanets accused Altman of copying calculations she had made about Bitcoin and Ethereum prices, using a formula Kate claimed took eight years to develop. “If any more work of mine that is plagiarized I will issue a cease and desist,” she tweeted. “Not something I would ever do to a kid but there is a line that needs to be drawn if she wants mass media attention.” (Kate declined to comment for this article.) In response to this allegation, Altman said in one of her videos that Kate used degree theory to come up with her calculations, which she does not use. “I am not copying you with your degree theory and techniques,” she said. Lohla, an astrologer on TikTok who goes by @sitaradidi, tells Rolling Stone that she feels Altman has a pattern of presenting as original ideas that “people had spoken about with consensus in the wider community.” 

Another creator who believes Altman lifted her content after publicly criticizing her work is Diosa Chi, an astrologer who specializes in astrophysiognomy, or linking facial features to zodiac signs. Like with AstroDim, one of Altman’s followers tagged Altman in the comments section of a video Chi posted in September about how moon signs affect appearance, asking if it was accurate. “No lol,:” Altman responded. “A handful of examples doesn’t represent astronomical theory.” The response prompted Chi to take down the video: “If a big creator with a verified checkmark comments under your post and they discredit you, it’s like, people are not going to believe what you say,” she says.

In early December, Chi saw that Altman had posted her own astrophysiognomy video series, using a format similar to hers. “For her specifically to go into my comments and say what she said and have her fans swarm my comments and then post similar content I do, it’s just really weird,” she says. In response to this claim, Altman provided a Google Doc of research titled “how to guess someone’s sign based on what they look like,” which was created on October 23rd, 2019, almost a year before Chi posted her video and more than a year before Altman posted her own series.

In early February of this year, Chi joined a room on the app Clubhouse where black creators were discussing feeling discredited within the community, and she spoke about her experience with Altman. “I just feel like I need to provide way more for people to be taken seriously or to be credible rather than my white counterparts,” she says.

Although not all of the astrologers accusing Altman of stealing or publicly discrediting their work were BIPOC, Lohla says it is not insignificant that many of them were. “The community has long spoken about the discrepancy in visibility between white astrologers and others — a lot of people explore similar topics but who gets taken seriously, has access to larger platforms and coverage, or are able to build presences with less work is not nearly as diverse a group as the actual origins of astrology, or the majority of people who practice and utilize it,” she says. “[It’s] more of a dialogue about who gets credibility and credit and visibility for making similar types of content, and who gets uplifted as an intelligent, authoritative source.”

White creators being prioritized over black creators or creators of color is also an issue on TikTok specifically, according to AI researcher Marc Faddoul, who found last year that the algorithm tends to recommend creators of a similar race and ethnic background as those a user already follows. Last spring, black TikTok creators also accused the platform of shadowbanning their Black Lives Matter content, an allegation that TikTok denied.

In one of her YouTube videos, Altman apologized for her dismissive comments towards other creators and her comment on Chi’s video in particular. “It’s hateful, it’s non-excusable, it perpetuates this toxic white demeaning presence that is inexcusable,” she said. “[Perpetuating] in this cycle over and over again, I am so, so sorry.”

But AstroDim says that Altman’s apology does not make up for what she believes is Altman’s skyrocketing to prominence based on the labor of other creators. “She’s done a lot of studying with astrology. I’m not gonna take away her knowledge of astrology at all. But there’s a lot of people who are knowledgeable of astrology,” she says. “Sometimes your image gives you a lot of attention and she has an edgy image that people find cool. [But] for some reason, because of America history, people just continue to try to invalidate black voices. Me and her said the same thing. She got more views.”

In This Article: astrology, TikTok

Newswire

Powered by
Arrow Created with Sketch. Calendar Created with Sketch. Path Created with Sketch. Shape Created with Sketch. Plus Created with Sketch. minus Created with Sketch.