Find out about SPILL, the Black-owned social media platform poised to take over if TikTok is banned

BY Preta Peace Namasaba May 10, 2024 11:45 AM EDT
Alphonzo Terrell. Photo credit: AfroTech

Only a few hours after leaving Twitter (now X), Alphonzo Terrell launched a competitor app, SPILL. He was one of the 3,700 employees let go from the company a week after Elon Musk acquired the social media application for $44 billion. Terrell had spent three years as global head of social & editorial at Twitter and was in a prime position to revolutionize the industry. Less than two years later, he is poised to fill the void TikTok leaves as it continues in a protracted standoff with the US government.

“Having worked at Twitter, I was very familiar with where the challenges of that platform were. Our core thesis with Spill was to focus on the culture drivers — Black women, the queer community, and other culture-driving communities around the world that are often setting the tone, the trends, the lexicon, and all the amazing magic that will happen on social platforms, but getting the lion’s share of hate, abuse [and] not getting credited or rewarded the way they should for their contributions,” Terrell said about his inspiration to develop Spill.

While at Twitter, Terrell effectively served as the voice of the brand and led the team in charge of running the company’s own accounts on the platform. He had previously worked in digital and social marketing for major brands such as HBO and Showtime. In the years Terrell spent working at the intersection of tech, media, and culture, he noticed that Black, LGBTQ+, and other historically marginalized users often play a major role in driving online culture but are more likely to face harassment or to have others profit from their ideas. He knew what kinds of content and creators drove conversations on social media and decided to build a new social media app, one that centers on marginalized users.

“So what’s next? Not sure, but I’m very certain it’s time to build something new,” Terrell wrote on Twitter after he was laid off. He then got on the phone with friend and former colleague DeVaris Brown and they began to plan the launch of a new app. They decided to capitalize on their experience building communities online and countering the typical problems that legacy social media platforms face. The founders named their app Spill as a reference to the African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) phrase “spill the tea which refers to sharing gossip or information.

Spill what many social media platforms struggle to be – positive, safe, and inclusive. Its mission is to create an inclusive space that centers the experiences of people who are typically ignored by social media platforms while maintaining a space that allows for hot takes and debate. Although it focuses on serving communities typically marginalized online, the platform is open to anyone. Spill has curated a space that is better for all of its users and encourages them to share information with one another in an authentic way.

Terrell and the team have designed the app as a crossover between a group chat and meme machine to enable users to create and express themselves in real time using visuals. The feed features posts with large, block text, usually superimposed over images or GIFs which users can swipe through to view a series of images. The “Spillboard,” at the top of users’ feeds highlights trending posts and is meant to help elevate creators on the app. Users have dubbed themselves “Spillionaires” and take ownership of the platform with community traditions such as a weekly movie viewing known as “live spilling.”

“I believe we’re building the greatest social platform in the world, bar none. It’s going to put everything in the dust because, again, we’re starting with a core experience that just isn’t possible, unfortunately, anywhere else. We understand who actually drives the culture. It’s not like, oh, we just built this tech, and then let’s figure out where all the cool kids are. We know. Ironically, it takes other folks a while to figure it out, but we know because we come from this. It’s us. We know those two things. Then number three, we know it’s about fun and connection and community,” Terrell explained his certainty about the future prospects of Spill.

Spill has raised over $5 million in pre-seed funding and secured advertising and content partnerships with Lionsgate, Variety, and BET. Within a week of launching a wait-list page, the platform generated 50,000 signups. It has since reached number one in the Apple App Store for Social Networking and has over 400,000 downloads. With the U.S. Senate passing legislation that would ban TikTok in the United States, Spill is poised to take over the short video market.